“’For God’s sake, grab silk!’”
Those are the words Plateau resident Staff Sgt. Hiram P. Jameyson heard when his B-17 was shot down near Brunswick, Germany, on March 23 1944.Although Jameyson died in 2002, records of his life during his 15 month of captivity in Germany exist in the form of letters to his wife Lorraine and a daily diary, which he kept hidden from his captors.
His letters and a transcribed version of his journal are available at the Enumclaw Historical Museum.
The Courier-Herald is presenting his letters and journal entries as a tribute to Veterans Day.
Jameyson recalled his experience in vivid detail to the Courier-Herald in March 1968.
“It all began on our fourth mission,” he recalled. “We were hit with flak on the way to our target and it knocked out one engine. They got us again over the target and we had to drop out of formation. We began to lose altitude and then we saw them – the German FW-190s just waiting for stragglers like us. Next thing I knew we were on fire and the flames were starting to swell over the wing gas tanks. Then – on the intercom – the last words from our pilot. ‘For God’s sake, grab silk!’”
Jameyson watched his B-17 bomber plane crash and burn while he was held aloft by his parachute. His landing was marginally better – Jameyson broke a leg, the bone protruding from his flesh as he was quickly captured by German soldiers.
Letters and diary entries
“Dearest angel Lorraine,
I am alive and well. I have a broken leg but am getting good treatment for it. Please don’t worry about me honey. Tell mother I am well. I can write 2 letters and 4 postcards a month. At present I have no return address. I was shot down over Germany and I will have to stay here until the war is over, so have courage and wait for my return.”
Jameyson wrote this letter on March 28, 1944, five days after his plane was shot down. Jameyson wrote to his newly-wed and pregnant wife as often as he could, optimistically sharing that he was healthy and doing well in Stalag III.
His journal revealed his situation was not always as bright as he made it seem to his wife.
“June 16 – ‘44
Rather cold today, nothing of importance, if Red Cross parcels don’t come soon, we will all die of starvation. Wonder if Lorraine is thinking as much of me as I think of her.”
Food was a precious commodity in the camp. There were more than 1,200 American prisoners in the camp when Jameyson arrived, and the number increased by several thousand by the time the war was over. In July, more than 2400 prisoners were forced to evacuate Heidekrug to Stalag III.
“July 18 – ‘44
My crew is with them – maybe – I haven’t seen them as yet. So many men were machine gunned and they ran them the three miles from the station. The slow, the maimed and the sick or weak were bayonetted and left to die along the road.”
Over the months, the number of prisoners grew and the challenge of feeding them all became nearly impossible. The German guards devised a gruesome solution to their problems – they started holding machine gun practices by firing into the POW camp.
“Anyone who happened to be in the way had better run for cover quickly,” Jameyson described. “The more of us they killed off, the less to feed.”Fuel and heat were also invaluable resources not just to the prisoners, but other unwitting members of the camp as well.
“Oct 23 – ‘44
The weather is extremely cold and wet, about as miserable as I am. Last night a mouse got into my bunk and crawled around my neck and down my legs. It bothered me so much I got up and slept on the table. The cold weather is driving them into the barracks in great numbers.”
It was not always cold and glum, though. According to Jameyson, the prisoners formed their own society in the camp. They held elections, had judges and juries, even performed in shows and organized ball games to keep their heads high and spirits free.
“June 17 – ‘44
Finally got our Red Cross Parcels today, everybody is happy. One prisoner went across the trip wire after a ball and the guard in the tower shot at him, kicking up dirt two feet behind him. They really mean business here.”
“April 25 – ‘45
Another warm day. We had a boxing match in our compound today very interesting and some very good boxers. Our garden is looking very good but must put some water on it, if it don’t rain soon. We had lights for one hour again last night. War news is scare these last few days.”
But not everyone was civil, especially after half a year of being exposed to harsh weather, starvation and the constant fear of German bullets. To say the men were on edge would be an understatement – Jameyson described in his journal how quickly fellow prisoners can turn on each other. At one time, Jameyson was accused of being a “Kraut lover” and was cornered and beaten by other prisoners.
“October 29 – ‘44
Being shut in with the group of men for so long is beginning to tell a lot of us. One must be careful what he says or there will be a dozen men at his throat. I hope to everyone’s sake it will not last the winter through.”
If there was one thought that kept Jameyson going, though, it was of his soon-to-be-born son. Shortly after Jameyson was deployed, he received news that Lorraine was pregnant, and the baby would be due in July 1944. In many of his letters to Lorraine, Jameyson expressed his hopes that his son Tommy was doing well, although Jameyson had not received news of his wife or son for several months after he was shot down.
“October 31 – ‘44
Oh happy days, today I received my first mail since being shot down. Five letters from my dearest wife, informing me I was the proud father of a baby boy born July 7. That is the best new up here I ever heard. I hope I get a cigar parcel soon. I was so excited I could hardly eat my supper.”
The journal was the one place where Jameyson would share his thoughts and emotions, but the fear of being discovered with his journal was intense.
“They did find it on me – three different times and each time I (imagined feeling) the hot metal pierce my skin and see myself in the dirt covered with blood,” Jameyson recalled years later. “I had witnessed sights like that before only now I was concerned it would be my face that others would see. They always opened the book from the back and here I recorded addresses of the men in my barracks. I would tell them it was just an address book and they would hand it back. It was just lucky I guess.”
News of the war was scarce, and rumors were spread in whispers for fear of the German guards discovering the small celebrations the prisoners held when good news was available.
“June 26 – 44
Today we started a pool in our room, there are 16 men, each pay $10 and set a date for the end of the war – nearest man wins, my date is July 28.”Although Jameyson didn’t win his bet, he celebrated none-the-less when the Russian army liberated Stalag III on May 1, 1945.
“May 1 – ‘45
Tuesday morning we are free men. The Germans left at 10:30 p.m. and we had our own men in the guard towers at 12 midnight. I can’t hardly believe it. I have been waiting a year and two months for this wonderful day. We are eating all we can hold and feel wonderful. It is now 10:15 in the evening and we are listening to the Hit Parade direct from New York. We have never heard any of the songs before. Everyone is going wild and dancing and jitterbugging in the hall.”
Jameyson was freed in May, but he wasn’t able to get back home to his wife and son until June.
“June 27 – ‘45
Finally arrived home and am too excited to do anything, but will officially end this book with my dear wife’s signature.”
Jameyson lived in Enumclaw with his wife for the remainder of his life. He is buried at the Tahoma National Cemetery.