United States Army
3rd Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106 Infantry Division – The Golden Lions
Military Rules for Prisoners of War
The Code of Conduct (CoC)
Article I – I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
Article II – I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
Article III – If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
Article IV – If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
Article V – When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
Article VI – I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
Merriam-Webster defines Prisoner of War (POW) as a person captured in war, especially a member of the armed forces of a nation who is taken by the enemy during combat. Clif Streat was a POW. He still has nightmares in which he sees the faces of comrades who died of malnutrition, pneumonia and spinal meningitis in Stalag 9B, Bad Orb, Germany.
He, like his comrades, was a long way from his home in Baltimore, MD. Warfare was not new to his family. His father, a highly skilled cabinet maker, had been assigned to the 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division in WWI. It was known as “Baltimore’s Own”. He had been gassed by the Germans. Clif graduated from high school at Baltimore City College in 1942. He and many of his classmates in the 18 – 19 year age category were swept up in the draft shortly after graduation. He had no problems with being drafted into the Army. He said “I thought that it was my duty.” His twin brother, William Lee Streat, joined the Merchant Marine Cadet Corps and served in the Merchant Marine on a tanker in the Pacific during the war. They would not see each other again until after the war ended.
Clif was taken by train in March 1943 from the Baltimore Armory to Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina. It was the largest infantry training base in the country and was the home of the recently activated 106th Division. Over 16,000 individuals from every state in the union, except those on the Pacific Coast, converged on Fort Jackson. According to General Jones, commanding officer of the 106th, “the average age at the time was 21 years and intelligence tests given to the men indicated an exceptionally high score, and our courts-martial and number of men AWOL were correspondingly low … everything seemed to be going our way and the world looked bright and cheery”.
Clif stated “The colonel and first sergeant were very tough. Twenty mile marches were common. The colonel’s orders were that ‘If anybody falls out, nobody is to pick them up. We will pick up those who are down and out.’ My feet were solid blisters but I made it … I weighed about 140 pounds.”
After completion of training, the division had lost some 600 officers and 6,000 men out of the original 14,000 to reassignment and transfer to other outfits. The division eventually traveled to New York City and sailed in October 1944 for various ports in England. They left Southampton, England on the last day of November and the first days of December for Le Harve, France at the mouth of the Seine River. Here they disembarked and traveled by truck to Rouen on the Seine River, approximately one-third of the way to Paris. They camped in a muddy field in a cold, drizzling rain. Many of the men traded their candy bars to the local populace for cognac. Clif credits the cognac for warding off pneumonia but said “Many came down with it. They were the lucky ones. They got shipped home.”
The move to the battlefield consisted of a 300 mile trek through Amiens, Cambrai and Maubeuge in France. They spent the night in Philippeville in Belgium then went on to Marche and the villages of eastern Belgium to the vicinity of St. Vith arriving during the period December 9 – 15.
The 106th Division moved into an area along a front stretching approximately 27 miles. It was spread along the Schnee Eifel. The Eifel forest is just northeast of the frontier of Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. It was the general sector of the Belgian town of Saint Vith, twelve miles southeast of Malmedy.
Twenty miles to the east of St. Vith lay a stretch of the German West Wall or Siegfried Line on the high, heavily wooded ridge known as the Schnee Eifel. A single two-lane hard surfaced road led from the rear to the area that Clif and his fellow infantrymen were to defend. Reserve forces consisted of one combat command of the 9th Armored Division. In other words, their lines were stretched in a manner later described as “pitifully thin”; reserves were few in number and the road system made reinforcement and re-supply difficult. The opposing German forces were planning to exploit these weaknesses.
Clif Streat was on guard duty the morning of December 16. At approximately 5:30 in the morning, the Germans unleashed an avalanche of steel and fire. The 106th Division suffered 8,663 casualties in the battle. Four hundred sixteen were killed and 1,246 were wounded. Seven thousand Americans were taken prisoner. It was to become known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was the largest and most costly American battle of WWII. Within two days, the American 106th Infantry Division, the Golden Lions, had been, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. Other divisions were badly mauled.
The Germans were methodical. The artillery fire was followed by tanks and infantry. The ground was covered with snow and it was very cold. Clif described how the German lines were so close that they could hear the German forces talking prior to the attack. The Americans assumed that the existing standoff would continue. However, to guard against surprise, they had strung wire in the trees and attached tin cans to the wire to serve as an early warning of German troop movements in their direction. They also tied hand grenades to trees with trip-wires attached to detonate the grenades. It had been overcast for several days and assistance from the allied air forces was impossible.
The first sign of trouble on his guard duty was the sound of German rockets. “They sounded like motorboats in the sky.” There had been a German attack the day before but the Americans had managed to repel the attack. However, on the second day they were overwhelmed. German artillery was firing air burst anti-personnel rounds non-stop. He recalls walking over the still hot shrapnel and thinking “My God, how am I going to survive this?” They began to retreat but were quickly surrounded. They had no food or supplies. The air was filled with tracer bullets. Jeeps and trucks were being blown up. They had run squarely into German General Karl Von Rundstedt’s armored divisions. Von Rundstedt was known as “a high priest of strategy”. At the time of the Allied D-Day invasions in June 1944, Von Rundstedt was German supreme commander in Western Europe.
It was American M-1 rifles against German Tiger Tanks. The German Tiger and especially the later King Tiger tanks were awesome weapons. The German King Tiger Tank was the most powerful tank in use during WWII. It had a powerful 88mm gun and an almost impenetrable front armor. For the allied forces, the sight of a King Tiger on the battlefield was terrifying. Clif and his fellow GI’s were now face-to-face with them.
Anticipating capture, they opened the throttles on their trucks and sent them off into the forest to prevent their capture and use by the Germans. He observed a jeep travel up a steep hill unaware that there was a Tiger Tank waiting at the top. It scored a direct hit on the jeep and “the wheels flew 40 feet into the air”. They were surrounded. Their Captain waved a white handkerchief and ordered them to break up their rifles and throw them in the snow. The Germans took their valuables (watches, rings, etc.) and their boots. He suspects that because his feet were so small he got to keep his boots. The Germans marched them east into Germany and transported them in boxcars, without food or water, to Stalag 9B, a prisoner of war camp north of Frankfurt at Bad Orb, Germany.
By this time, Germany was all but defeated and supplies of any type, including uniforms and boots, were in very short supply. They had neither the resources to properly care for prisoners nor the will to do so. They were told that for every one that escaped ten would be killed. After marching for several days they were loaded into railroad boxcars and the doors nailed shut. He had no idea where they were. During the march, he and some others had run into a field and picked up vegetables which they hungrily devoured. He did not know what they were eating but he was hungry enough to eat most anything. One of the men said that they were sugar beets. German and American dead lined both sides of the road. Dead horses lay everywhere. Despite the sophistication of German weapons like the Tiger Tank, German forces still relied on horses to transport artillery and supplies.
Clif estimates that fewer than 80 of the more than 100 in his original unit were still alive. Some were wounded and had to be assisted. With 48 American POW’s jammed into each boxcar, there was standing room only. The boxcars were on a railroad siding. By now the weather had cleared and the air raid sirens sounded. It was an American fighter plane raid. The pilots had no way of knowing who or what was in the boxcars and began to strafe them. “Everyone tried to get on the floor of the cars but it was impossible.” The raid ended and the cars were opened. Several of the men in his car had been killed. Two chaplains administered last rites to the dead and dying. His parents received a telegram from the War Department; “REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE FIRST CLASS CLIFTON E STREAT IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM PROVOST MARSHAL GENERAL – J A ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.”
They were taken by train to Bad Orb enduring more air raids along the way. German civilians watched as they were marched about eight miles to Stalag 9B in Bavaria. As they entered the POW camp they passed through the Russian and French sections of the camp. They were counted off into barracks buildings. It was very cold and the window openings had no glass just barbed wire. They had not eaten in days. They were fed “grass soup” and he ate a helmet-full of it. Almost immediately everyone came down with diarrhea. Pits with wooden benches served as latrines but there were human feces everywhere. The living conditions were terrible. Beds consisted of bunks with wood shavings and flea infested straw mats for mattresses. There was no heat in the barracks. He and the other POWs were covered with quarter-sized flea bites.
The Germans rounded up the Jewish POWs and took them away. “Some tried to change their last names … we were aware of what kind of treatment they could expect from the Germans.”
Before long the men became walking skeletons. Pneumonia was common and one of the Indian prisoners brought spinal meningitis into the camp. Those two diseases, complicated by malnutrition, caused many POW deaths. The German camp doctor had no medication and there was little he could do. “The smokers died first” Clif explained. “They traded their food ration (thin potato soup and a small loaf of bread divided among eight POWs) for cigarettes and suffered the most from malnutrition.” He now weighed less than 80 pounds. There was a lot of talk about escape but it was thought to be impossible. The POWs were in a much weakened condition, and the combination of multiple barbed and concertina wire fences, searchlights and patrolling guards made escape impossible.
One night, two men from his barracks escaped and made their way to the camp kitchen. They were surprised by a German mess sergeant whom they killed with a meat cleaver. The barracks were locked down and searched. The two men were found and taken away. Clif later heard that they had been shot.
Dead prisoners were placed in burlap bags, loaded onto wooden carts, taken into the forest and buried in unmarked graves. These “funeral parades” were daily occurrences. He often wonders “if those poor boys ever made it home to their families … there was no way to find or identify them”. He recalls that Bad Orb was a recuperation area for wounded German soldiers and that many of them were used as guards. They were not happy with the Americans and many were very abusive towards the POWs. One day, while feeling especially ill, he was assigned to a wood gathering detail. He recalls being shoved and beaten by an especially abusive guard while struggling to carry a large piece of wood back to camp. Caparelli, a friend, kept yelling “They’re gonna kill you if you fall back”. He does not know how he made it back.
One of the older German guards had become somewhat friendly. Clif said to him that “You had better be careful because I’ll be guarding you one day.” The guard laughed and said “Oh no. The only way this war will end is if we put Hitler, Stalin and Roosevelt in burlap bags and shoot them.”
In late March 1945, small American spotter planes flying over the camp would dip their wings signaling that rescue might be close. One day, firing could be heard in the town and the German guards began to disappear. General George Patton’s tanks approached the camp and drove
through the wire fence surrounding the camp. The liberating American soldiers tossed C and D rations to the POWs, who fought over them. Those who ate the rations immediately became sick. The rations were taken away.
It would be several months before he could eat normally again. The POWs were de-loused, given hot showers, temporary uniforms and transported to what were called “cigarette camps” in France (Camp Lucky Strike, etc.) Clif estimates that there were approximately 60 survivors from the more than 100 originally assigned to his unit. They were given the option of returning to the United States. It was an easy decision. On April 24, 1945 Clif’s parents received another telegram from the War Department; “THE CHIEF OF STAFF DIRECTS ME TO INFORM YOU YOUR SON PRIVATE FIRST CLASS CLIFTON E STREAT JR IS BEING RETURNED TO THE UNITED STATES WITHIN THE NEAR FUTURE AND WILL BE GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU UPON ARRIVAL – J A ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.”
In his weakened condition, he struggled to get up the gangplank of the ship that would take him home from the French port of Le Harve. He managed to make it. After a brief stop in England, they continued on to New York. He was transferred to a hospital at Fort Meade, Maryland and reunited with his parents. Two weeks of recuperation in hotels on Florida’s Miami Beach aided his recovery. After returning from Florida he was briefly hospitalized in Baltimore after collapsing at his parent’s home. He was cared for in the hospital by, of all people, a German POW who wanted to know what had happened to his home town in Germany. Clif did not know but assumed that the town had been destroyed. The German was crestfallen.
Clif was discharged on December 2, 1945. He attended Washington College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He eventually retired to Ocean Pines, Maryland after teaching high school mathematics for 30 years. He does not harbor any bitterness towards his former captors. He would like to return to Germany some day to retrace his steps to Bad Orb which he describes as a beautiful little town. “I feel sorry for the guys that didn’t make it … who ended up in those unmarked graves. I still see the faces of my dead comrades in my nightmares. I hope that they have found peace.”
The 106th Division, while in training at Fort Jackson, had adopted the motto “To Make History Is Our Aim” and make history they did.
~ GEORGE REISWIG