Tommy Hupp Talks about His Service in World War II

In the European Campaign during World War II, there were 93,941 U.S. Army and Air Corps personnel who were captured by the Germans and interned in more than 50 prisoner of war camps across Europe. One of those prisoners was Private First Class Thomas “Tommy” Hupp. In May 1943, Tommy began basic training. After completing advanced infantry training and other assignments, he was shipped overseas as a replacement in the 30th Infantry Division.

Battle for Normandy: Operation Cobra

In the first week of July 1944, Tommy was assigned as a rifleman to the Company E, 2nd Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment in France. Tommy's first major engagement was 3 weeks later in the demanding battle, codenamed Operation Cobra. This was the Allied breakout of Normandy. His division took the town of Troisgots and defended it from strong German counterattacks, which penetrated though their lines the following day.

After 5 days of holding the town in brutal fighting, Tommy's division went over to the offense and pushed west, crossing into Belgium on September 2, 1944. Tommy then advanced into Holland, and his unit seized Maastricht as part of the ill-fated Market Garden campaign. The unit attacked against strong German opposition as they began entering Germany. After house to house fighting in the Dutch town of Rimburg, the 119th Regiment took the well-defended Rimburg Castle, 500 yards from the Siegfried Line. Then they slowly advanced into the Siegfried Line, but were checked by a German counterattack.

Under Siege

By now, Tommy's squad had lost 27 men of his 40-man platoon. They were fatigued, and in the afternoon they moved into an unoccupied concrete bunker and took turns sleeping while two men stood guard. During the counterattack, the small number of men had been observed by the Germans as they entered the bunker and were quickly surrounded. They demanded that Tommy and his friends surrender. They ignored the offer as the Germans began firing armor piercing bullets that ricocheted off the walls, and throwing concussion grenades to force them out.

“We couldn't even see in there. When it finally settled down, our lieutenant said all we could do was surrender. We were just victims of circumstance. By then there were a couple guys wounded, and I had just turned 21 and wasn't ready to give up my life just for the heck of it. So we gave up the less of two evils.”

Prisoner of War

On October 5, 1944, on the Siegfried Line, Thomas Hupp and his unit were taken as prisoners and held in a schoolhouse for a couple days, where they were interrogated. From the first moments of his capture, Tommy was careful—not scared—but feared he would accidentally be killed by friendly fire. They were kept in a small village for another day and then were marched east into Germany. On the second or third day of marching, they were marched through the streets of Bonn, just after an American bomb attack on that city. German civilians shouted at them contemptuously, and children threw an occasional stone at their ranks. During the march, Hupp and his fellow prisoners were mistakenly attacked by planes of the U. S. Air Corps, who must have misunderstood their neatly marching lines for German infantry.

After 10 days, the 95-mile march ended on October 16th at Stalag XII-A in Limburg, Germany, near Wiesbaden. Stalag XII-A's primary function was a transit camp, which processed newly captured prisoners of war before distributing them amongst other, better organized Stalags in Germany. Due to the overcrowding of the camp, a tent had been set up. This was Tommy's home for the next month. On November 15, 1944, Tommy left Stalag XIIA in a box car on a slow-moving train.

POW Camp Stalag II-B

After 600 miles, on November 20, the train entered Stalag II-B, situated just west of the village of Hammerstein, now the Polish town of Czarne. The camp sprawled over 25 acres surrounded by two barbed-wire fences. Additional fences formed compounds and sub-compounds. Ten thousand Russians lived in the East Compound, while other nationalities (including Americans) were separated into the North Compound. At times more than 600 men were quartered in each of the three single-story barracks, measuring 15 yards wide and 60 yards long. Barracks were divided in half by a center washroom which had 20 water taps.

Conditions were horrible. Tommy wrote, “One man with us was taken sick and died before receiving treatment.” In the dead of winter Tommy and his fellow POWs suffered terribly, sleeping on planks of wood with a little straw, no heat, and nothing to keep warm except the clothes on their backs. Tommy wrote, “No heat except what fellow prisoners could furnish by trading for fuel (wooden bed slats).” Tommy and his fellow prisoners were fed rutabaga soup and black bread about two inches thick that they sliced into very thin slices so that it would last longer. Tommy wrote, “Used a pick and shovel digging ditches, fox holes, etc. Also worked in woods sawing and chopping trees.”

Death March

Advancing Russian troops forced the evacuation of Stalag II-B. At 8:00 a.m. on January 29, 1945, a disorganized column of 1,200 men were marched out into a raging snowstorm. They were forced to walk westward with no suitable clothing and very little to eat. The first night was spent at a government barn with plenty of hay. After the first day, the column was broken down into three groups of 400 men each.

For the next three months, the columns were on the move, marching an average of 15 miles a day, 6 days a week in severely cold weather in northern Germany. Their rations were neither regular nor adequate. At almost every stop Tommy and his buddies bartered coffee, cigarettes or chocolate for potatoes. Tommy stated that the ability of the men to steal helped a lot. Quarters were usually unheated barns and stables. Sometimes they slept unsheltered on the ground, but sometimes they were fortunate enough to find a heated barn.

On April 13th, one column of men was strafed by four British Spitfires. Ten American POWs were killed. In a cherished note he has today, Tommy wrote down in his calligraphy handwriting the name of each town his column of POWs passed. This is Tommy's living history of his difficult march.

Forced Labor

After 250 miles, on March 19, 1945, Tommy and about 200 Americans arrived in Hagenow, Germany. He wrote, “I was not properly fed. Lost 35 lbs. weighed about 160 at beginning.” They were put in two buildings with tar-paper roofs and forced to work in and around a military air base.

Tommy wrote, “Was forced to work around the air base in an area where enemy planes and bombs were stored. This drew fire from our own planes. We camouflaged planes and bombs that were stored around the air strip.” He also painted in large letters USPOW on the two roofs of their buildings for the Allied pilots to see.

Liberated!

On May 2, 1945, after seven months as a POW, just at daybreak, Tommy “could hear this sound in the distance that a tank makes when it rolls on a hard surface. We were looking out of our barracks and there were tanks from the U.S. 8th Infantry Division as far as you could see.” Tommy Hupp and his colleagues had been liberated.

As a member of the triumphant party, Tommy took possession of a German military pistol (Pisztolý 37m) as a souvenir from a German prisoner-of-war administrative officer. The pistol serial number is 50582 and the two ammunition clips contain the identical serial numbers. This rare pistol with matching serial numbers on the pistol, stock and clips is indeed extraordinary. Tommy has kept this prized souvenir in his possession all these years.

The Return Home

On May 5, 1945, Tommy and his comrades left Haganow on U.S. trucks for an airport near Hanover. They were then flown to Camp Lucky Strike in France, where they were rehabilitated for a couple of weeks. He then returned to the United States for a well-earned 60-day furlough.

Following his leave, and in the fluid situation of the war with Japan, Tommy was shuttled among several Army camps on the East Coast. On November 5, 1945, at Fort Meade, Maryland, Tommy Hupp was honorably discharged from the
U.S. Army.

On his World War II experience, Tommy reflected, “I wouldn't take a million dollars for my experience—but I wouldn't do it again for 10 million.”

(Story courtesy Willow Oaks Country Club)