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3rd Armored Division Association
58th Annual Reunion - July 6-10, 2005
Indianapolis, Indiana


Speech by David J. Fleischer
Son of 3AD WWII Veteran Neil Fleischer (143rd Signal Co.)



Before I begin my "remembrance", I must take a moment and thank Bob Reinsche for the opportunity to share my story with you. Bob, you have been very helpful and I am proud to call you a friend. Thanks!

Some of you already know me. I attended my first reunion, your fiftieth, in 1997 in Louisville, Kentucky. I came to meet my Father's friends and to understand his service in the Third Armored Division. My mother has joined me on several occasions, but this year she did not feel up to the travel. I know she always enjoys these reunions. She renews old friendships and has made many new friends.

Where is my Father? He died at the age of 43 of heart problems in 1962 when I was five years old. I never knew much about his time in the Division. My only knowledge of his service came from a uniform that hung in the attic, a very worn copy of "Spearhead In The West", and small box containing medals, insignias, newspaper clippings, and some telegrams. To complicate the search my Grandparents were long gone, my Mother and two brothers only knew bits and pieces of my Father's service. No one ever thought to get all of the details before it was too late.

In 1996, I was at a dead end until Don Marsh contacted my Mother. Don was a former member of the Signal Company, who was later transferred to the Second Armored Division. Don and his writing partner, Steve Ossad, were putting together a book on General Rose. Don was collecting information about the night General Rose was killed and he had hoped my Mother might have some details that my Father had mentioned. My Father was in the General's radio car on the night of March 30,1945. I credit Don Marsh with turning on my keen interest in my Father's service and this Division.

So I began my quest to learn about my Father during the war years. I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel to many of the sites that he visited during those years. My Dad often took photographs at these sites and my goal was to "re-photograph" the same sites today.

  • I have walked the sands of Camp Iron Mountain, in the Mojave Desert, where the Division trained for desert warfare. I located the general area of my Father's tent using a photograph that he took in 1942.
  • I grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. This is about 18 miles from Fort Indiantown Gap. I know many of the veterans spent time in this camp.
  • On my travels to England, I have visited the "old mushroom farm" in Cucklington, Somerset County. This place will be quite familiar to the men of the Signal Company. For those members of the Signal Company who may remember the "Rising Sun" pub, I am sorry to say it is now a private home.
  • I have been to Bournemouth, England on the south coast. This was a popular "R and R" spot. I have visited the "Norfolk Hotel". My Father was photographed in front of it in 1944 and I can say it has not really changed over these 60 plus years.
  • I have been to Cologne, Germany. I have stood on the steps of the cathedral where General Rose stood in 1945. I have visited the nearby hotel at Cathedral Square. Weldon Limroth of the Signal Company doing his part for the war told me he "liberated" some wine from the basement of the hotel under German fire. I had to visit that spot!
  • I have been to Malmedy where members of the Division died in the Massacre.
  • I have been to sites where you helped to stop Kampfgruppe Peiper during the Battle of the Bulge.
  • I have visited the remains of the concentration camp at Nordhausen that you liberated in 1945.
  • I also visited the final resting places of so many members of this Division, the cemeteries at Margraten, Holland and Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.
  • I have walked the grounds near Paderborn where General Rose was killed sixty years ago this year.
  • Finally, I have been to Fallingbostel, Germany. Why Fallingbostel, Germany you may ask? Most of the people here today are not familiar with this town, but it has special meaning to me, to my Father and his story. Let me explain why.

My Father's story took an unusual turn on the evening of March 30, 1945 on a road about six miles south of Paderborn, Germany. He was nearby at that fateful time General Rose surrendered and was killed. You see, the General always traveled with his M-20 radio car and the car carried six men:

  • Lt Colonel Wesley Sweat, Division G-3
  • T/Sgt John Jones, Division G-3 Stenographer
  • Pvt James Stevenson, Division HQ Driver
  • PFC William Hatry, 143rd Signal Company Message Clerk
  • T/4 Wesley Ellison, 143rd Signal Company Radio Operator
  • T/4 Neil Fleischer, 143rd Signal Company Radio Operator, my father

The war ended that night for these 6 men although Colonel Sweat was able to rejoin the Division. The armored car was captured and the occupants became prisoners of war. The six men were loaded onto the back of a tank as fighting continued around them. They were removed from the field and interrogated. By day 3 of their captivity, April 1st, they were moved again and interrogated at a German corps headquarters. On day 4, April 2nd, they were marched to a railroad station and moved to Hannover. As the Air Corps was in full command of the skies, PFC Hatry wrote, "Luckily, the weather was bad and we didn't get shot up". On Day 5, they were moved from Hannover by train to the small town of Fallingbostel. It is directly between Hannover and Bremen in Northern Germany. They were unloaded at the railroad station as so many other POWs had been during the war. They were then marched about one mile to a prisoner of war camp, known as Stalag XIB.

Now Stalag XIB was a very large camp. It had been designed to hold enlisted men, but by this time it also held officers. For anyone unfamiliar with the German camp numbering system, each German district had a number, in this case, XI. All camps in the region would then be assigned a letter to denote a specific camp, as XIB. This district had an "interesting" variety of camps. For example:

  • Stalag XID, which was within sight of the Stalag XIB and had one purpose; to hold Russian and Ukrainian prisoners. The Russians despised the Germans and the Germans despised the Russians. For this deep hatred the Germans provided special accommodations for their Russian prisoners. During 1941 and 1942, over 33,000 Russians arrived at Stalag XID. The Germans didn't bother to build barracks for their Russian captives. They had them dig holes in the ground. These holes were their "homes" during their first winter in Germany. My research has shown that some Germans considered this the easiest way to handle the prisoners. When they died, the holes were just filled in. Of the over 33,000 Russians that arrived at the camp, only 1,800 remained alive at the war's end.
  • Another district camp was Stalag XIC; it was part of the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The camp where Anne Frank and so many others died.
  • Now back to Stalag XIBThe war was closing in on the Germans. Stalag XIB became a central camp and very over-crowded. Prisoners were moved from other camps as the Allies pushed in from the East and the West. At this time the German army was short of able-bodied men so the camp was guarded by middle-aged men and not the young crack troops of Hitler's earlier years. These men were tired and probably didn't want to be there either.

When the six men of the Third Armored Division arrived at Stalag XIB, they were again interrogated and issued wooden ID tags. My Father became number "201944". I still have the tag today. They filled out POW cards. These cards asked typical information: name, rank, unit, next of kin, home address, and religion. It included a thumbprint and early in the war a photograph. By this time film was scarce and no photographs were taken. I found the original cards in our National Archives among captured German records.

Now one final question puzzled me. It asked their civilian occupation. I was intrigued by my Father's answer. You see before the war he was a carpet and linoleum installer, but on his card he wrote something, scratched it out and he changed the answer to "cook". He must have been very hungry. You see, by the time they reached Stalag XIB they had not had anything to eat for five days!

Colonel Sweat told me when I spoke to him in March of 2000 that the typical meals consisted of the following:
Lunch - Soup of rutabagas boiled in water.
Dinner - 4 small boiled red potatoes and 4 slices of black bread.

Occasionally, they received a very small amount of margarine or a small spoonful of meat. Colonel Sweat told me that he was sure it was horsemeat. Great food was combined with dysentery, lice, and appalling over-crowded living conditions.

One very interesting story that I have found is an account written by T/Sgt John Jones. He wrote and I quote, "The Germans were particularly down on the Air Corps. They took Neil and Tex (Fleischer and Ellison) from the camp". I wondered what this meant. Since they were both radio operators, did the Germans believe they had important information? I just didn't know.

About 3 years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War Association. I asked if anyone had been to Stalag XIB. Surprisingly, two gentlemen raised their hands. After the meeting we sat down to talk and from out of nowhere, one of the men said, "Do you remember when they took the non-comms out of the camp"? My ears perked up and I quickly asked what did he mean? He explained that the Germans were very tired of our constant bombings and strafing of the area. They took the non-comms out and marched them up and down the roads in hopes that they would be strafed by the Allied planes.

Liberation did come on April 16, 1945 when a reconnaissance troop of the 8th Hussars, part of the Famous British 7th Armored Division (the "Desert Rats") found the camp. Today, the British are still there 60 years later on the grounds of the abandoned Panzer camp just across the road from XIB.
When the camp was liberated, the POWs had nowhere to go so they stayed in the camp for several more days. The 7th Armored Division was back on the move, chasing the Germans towards Berlin and the end of the war.

The Germans that had not already abandoned the camp were captured and became POWs themselves. The British and the Americans were now in charge of the camp. Again during my March 2000 conversation with Colonel Sweat, he told me that at the time of the liberation he was the highest-ranking officer in the camp. He and the other officers were asked by the civilians in Fallingbostel to police the town. Some of the surviving Russians decided to loot and burn parts of the town. It was even reported that they had raped a teenage girl. The Germans needed protection so the former American and the British prisoners protected their town.

On April 19, 1945 the six men left the camp and flew to Brussels. They were deloused, given baths, issued new uniforms, and 20 dollars by the British Red Cross. On April 21st, they were finally back in American hands. They moved to Camp Lucky Strike for the trip home and Colonel Sweat rejoined the Division.

My father returned to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, married the girl he had met before shipping overseas, and had three sons. Over time, the six men from the armored car moved on with their lives and lost contact with each other. Sadly today, they are all gone.

Now it's 2005. In April, I went back to Stalag XIB for my second visit. I received an invitation from the local German Mayor to attend a dedication ceremony for the new memorial at Stalag XIB on April 16th, the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation. The memorial dedication itself was a British affair with all of the true British traditions. I met several former POWs from the camp and I met the Second-in-Command of the British liberators from 60 years ago. This was truly a memorable event for me.

Until the memorial was built, there was so little to let you know about the camps of Stalag XIB and XID. Today, Stalag XID is a large open field where the locals ride their horses. The only remains are the delousing building and one of the barracks. Both of which are still in use by the local municipal authority. There is a cemetery dedicated to the tens of thousands of dead from the Russian camp. It is a very peaceful place, but it doesn't get many visitors. As for Stalag XIB, until the memorial dedication, there was nothing. The grounds themselves are now a housing complex. Full of very orderly white homes with neatly kept lawns, gardens, and satellite dishes. Just behind the houses are the few remains of Stalag XIB. All that can be seen are the moss-covered foundations of the barracks, the hospital, and the washrooms.

Today, you can dig on the grounds and find lost pieces of the Stalag XIB's life. While I was walking the grounds with a British friend who lives in Fallingbostel, we found two British enameled cups from 60 years ago. Most Germans do not know what is just beyond their backyards.

The story has continued. Just two weeks ago one of my brothers told me that he had some items that he thought I should have. I have become the official keeper of the family archives. During lunch he handed me a number of yellowed newspaper articles from our Dad's hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. They talked about his promotions, capture and other topics. Just typical hometown news. Also included was his draft card and a small 1945 pocket calendar. The kind you get from Hallmark. I didn't look at it too closely over lunch, but that evening, I was surprised when the calendar revealed "x's" over the days that he was a prisoner of war. This calendar was with him in Stalag XIB! This really brought my Dad's story home to me.

My search won't end here. My next visits will include the Prym House in Stolberg. I have a photograph of my Father in front of the house. I also want to see the remains of Camp Lucky Strike in France. He took some photographs there too. I will keep searching ... For my Dad.

Now you might ask what all of this means to each of you.

To the veterans ... take some time now and share your stories with your families.

To the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of these amazing men ... listen, take notes, and record these stories. We cannot let what they did 60 years ago be lost. We owe it to the memory of all of the departed heroes of this great division.

Thank you.

David J. Fleischer
2108 Cedar Run Drive #205
Camp Hill, PA 17011

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