“An Awesometalk With” GEORGE HAUCK, WWII Veteran and Ex-Prisoner of War

March 31, 2009: Barry Cauchon

HAPPY 89TH BIRTHDAY GEORGE!!!!!

Sometimes I interview a guest on ‘An Awesometalk With’ that has a very interesting life story to share. They have experienced history personally in a way that few of us can relate to. That is because, unlike most of us who learn about history from books, movies or television, they actually participated in it firsthand. 

  

Retired 2nd Lt. George Hauck of the 8th Air Force Group, WWII.

Retired WWII veteran, 2nd Lt. George Hauck of the 8th Air Force Group.

 

Well, on March 14, 2009, I enjoyed over an hour of excellent conversation with just such a person. His name is George “Mickey” Hauck. George is a retired WWII veteran, 2nd Lieutenant from the 8th Air Force Group (nicknamed “The Mighty Eighth”). George’s daughter Arlene Berry contacted me about her father and his honorable past. She informed me that he was one of several officers originally trained (around 1943-44) to participate in the atomic bomb attacks on Japan in 1945. But as his training was an ‘alternate’ approach to the standard way bombing runs were planned back then, this ‘new approach’ did not find favor and was eventually scrubbed.

 

George’s story doesn’t end here. On November 21, 1944 he was aboard a B-17 on his first bombing mission over Germany. The attack took his crew over Merseburg, Germany and after a successful run they were returning to their home base at Thurleigh, England. With only 50 miles to go, the plane was hit by German anti-aircraft flack and caught fire. George and the rest of the crew had to bail out while still over Germany. He was captured that same day and eventually imprisoned in Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany (a prison camp for American and British air force officers) where he was assigned to the North Compound 3, Barracks 5 (Block 305) Room 11. He spent a little over 5 months there until the Russians liberated the camp in early May, 1945. George was evacuated to France by mid-May, 1944 and shipped home a short time later.

 

Currently George and his wife Adelaide live in Punta Gorda, Florida. Their daughter Arlene also lives in the area while her sister Gay lives in New Jersey. George and Adelaide will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary on July 25, 2009.

 

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B. I’m very proud to have Mr. George Hauck with me today and welcome him to A Little Touch of History.

 

G. Hello Barry.

 

B. Hello George. How are you?

 

G. I’m alright!

 

B. It’s nice to finally get a chance to speak with you George. Your daughter Arlene has told me a lot about you. Let me first start off by telling everyone that you are going to have a birthday this month.

 

G. That’s right. I’m going to be 89 at the end of this month, the 31st of March.

My wife already had her birthday…for her 90th year. Arlene has the same birthday as my wife’s.

 

B. What day is that?

 

G. That’s Valentine’s Day!

 

B. Well Happy Valentine’s Day and a belated Happy Birthday to both Adelaide and Arlene. And to you George, let me wish you an early Happy Birthday greeting as well.

 

G. Thank you.

 

B. George, before we talk about your past, can you tell us what are you doing nowadays?

 

G. I belong to the Legion and Ex-Prisoners of War. I’ve been their chaplain for I don’t know how many years, the Ex-Prisoners of War. That organization is down to 15-18 people now. We don’t get that many more coming to a meeting. They don’t come that often.

 

These are all ex-prisoners of war, or their wives. If it wasn’t for the wives we wouldn’t have an Ex-Prisoners of War meeting. There wouldn’t be enough people there.

 

B. I’d like to ask you how you got into the Air Force. How did it happen?

 

G. I enlisted. I was a welder and I wanted to join but my boss wouldn’t let me join. Finally he let me take the test.

 

B. Did you train to become a pilot right away?

 

G. I enlisted in the Cadets and after much ado; fifty-two of us took a test in the post office in Newark, New Jersey. It was a written test and a physical. And when they got done after two days of that, they called two names, another guy’s and mine. The two of us passed and we then waited a couple of months for something to happen. Everything was slow and you couldn’t do anything about it.

 

B. I guess you were anxious to get involved?

 

G. Well yeah, there was a war going on! I was a young guy … you know … Go, Go, Go!

 

B. Do you remember what year that was George when you enlisted?

 

G. I think it was ’42. I wouldn’t bet my life on it … or yours.

 

B. (chuckles).

 

G. But I think ’42. Then one night I went to Nashville which was a center where they decided what you were going to be. Then you’d take a bunch of tests and then you’d wait for another week or so. Anyway, I was qualified for all three (pilot, bombardier and navigator). And then I went to Montgomery, Alabama which is still an army base. Then I went to Arcadia where I learned to fly an airplane. That was a Stearman. That’s a plane that most pilots today would have a hard job flying because it was a twin-wing airplane. The height of the second wing is really high and its top heavy. The wheels are fairly close together and when you land a lot of people ‘ground loop’.  A lot of people washed out even then. But that was a nice airplane. If I was a rich man and 50 years younger, I’d buy one.

 

George Hauck (1942 or 43)

George Hauck (1942 or 43)

  

B. Eventually after that, you got into radar and navigation.

 

G. It’s a long story. Have you ever heard of General LeMay?

 

B. Yes, General Curtis LeMay. He ran as George Wallace’s running mate in the 1968 Presidential race.

 

G. He was a Four-Star General at the end of the war. But in ’42 he was the head of the B-29s. Originally, the B-29 had five enlisted men and five officers onboard. And General LeMay was going to change that. He was going to get rid of the enlisted men and every one of the five officers was going to be qualified to do every job. In other words, the guy that was the navigator could pilot, the pilot could navigate. You know! And it never came to pass. And I was so mad about this. Don’t ask me why he picked me but I was one of them that went to various schools for training.

 

B. So you took that training to be the all encompassing airman!

 

G. It was LeMay’s group! You did what you were told! If you are in the army and they give you a piece of paper that says you are going to ‘so and so’, you go there and that’s it.

 

B. And so it was General LeMay’s group that you joined which eventually ran the Pacific Operations against Japan.

 

G. I never got there. See that’s the joke, I never got there. After two years of going through all kinds of schools, and every time I went to a school, after I was there for awhile, they would be short of an instructor. And I’d instruct for a couple of months. Then they’d send me to someplace else. I went to gunnery school, navigation school, bombardier school….

 

B. You could have done it all.

 

G. Well yeah, that’s what I was doing! It was a crazy thing. But they figure they were going to bomb Japan some day. They hadn’t done it yet. And they were going to have to have enough good crews to do the job. Their idea was alright. But the guys who did it actually had a regular crew of five enlisted men and five officers.

 

B. Right, so initially you were training for it…

 

G. Yeah I never did it.

 

B. …and then they went and changed it.

 

G. No they didn’t change it! They had the system that they already had!

 

B. Oh I see, they used the regular system. Your system would have been the one they replaced it with.

 

G. It came up that they decided to bomb Japan. And they bombed Japan with the regular crew; you know five enlisted men and five officers. And the second plane that they did that, hardly anybody knows the name anymore and I can’t even remember it now.

 

B. Bockscar (laughing). I know that because I recently wrote an article on it.

 

G. Yeah but nobody knows that.

 

B. Nobody knows that (laughing).

 

G. (laughing) Go to a bar and say “Name me the 1st plane that dropped the bomb on Japan?” and what will they say. Somebody will answer. Somebody will.

And then say “Who’s the second plane they sent to drop the bomb?” and then nobody will put their hand up.

 

B. No idea!

 

G. They’ll be sitting there (laughing). You might be there and then you’d put your hand up and you would know.

 

B. I’d be the lucky one because I had researched it (laughing).

 

G. Just think how many planes were training for that mission. When you stop and think about it. One airplane dropped one bomb. And then Bockscar dropped one bomb. They were about 4-5 foot long, 3 feet high. They were a funny looking thing. They were an oddball looking thing. You would think of a bomb with a point and a tail, fins and round. This thing looked like a watermelon. It was a horrible looking thing.

But that was the end of the war and all this training, including me. That was the end of it.

 

Fat Man dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima.

Fat Man dropped by Bockscar on Nagasaki on August 12, 1945.

 

B. While you were doing all your training, how did that fit in with you going to England and eventually going on a bombing run over Germany?

 

G. I was already in England at the time. LeMay’s group was all together in England. But while we trained, the Germans kept bombing England just like they did before. And guys in our Air Force were getting shot down. You’d be surprised how many fellows in the Air Force got shot down. I hardly flew any missions. I got shot down really early in my career as far as that goes.

 

B. The date that Arlene gave me was November 21, 1944 which I guess is about 10 months before the Japan atomic bombings.

 

G. That’s it. Yeah, that’s about the time. The only reason I was a prisoner for that length, and no longer, was the war ended in Germany.

 

B. And that was in May of 1945.

 

G. You know for the two years that I spent going to these various schools, I was so mad at General LeMay for keeping me from going to combat. But he saved my life because thousands of guys got killed in Europe. And if he hadn’t of had me in training stuff I would have been sent over to Europe early. God knows what I would have been doing but it’s likely that I would have been flying a B-17.

 

B. When you did go over to England, was it also in 1944 or were you there earlier?

 

G. A little earlier. I don’t remember a date. I wasn’t there long. Even over there they sent me to a school to brush up on radar. And the radar they had me use was like a frying pan compared to a real radar. They only had crap over there. They didn’t have anything decent.

 

B. With regards to the bombing missions, how would they be run? Would they send out hundreds of planes all at once?

 

G. It depended on what kind of mission you’d be going on. If you were going on a long mission to a very important target you had lots of planes. You might send not only a 306th Bomb Group but there might be ten airfields cleaned out of airplanes that could fly that day. And that would mean a couple hundred airplanes anyway.

 

B. On your particular mission was it daytime or night flying?

 

G. Well we didn’t fly nights. The American Army Air Force did not fly nights. The English did fly nights. They said they picked that because they said it was tough. “It was tough, my butt”!

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. The English chose that because their chances were much greater of coming back alive. There were never thousands and thousands of English prisoners in a German Stalag, believe me!

 

B. You had completed your mission and were actually on your way back to base when you were fired at. What do you remember of your particular flight? 

 

G. Well, we were going home. We had two engines that had been blown apart and only two were running. I figured we’d land on the beach in England if we were lucky. That’s the way I planned it.

 

We were flying along on our two engines. It was alright, we had everything under control. A B-17 could fly on just two engines. We were losing a little altitude but at the rate we were losing altitude we were still going to get to England. So what the heck did we care. We didn’t care. As long as you put two and two together and it made four that’s all you cared about, as long as you got back to England.

 

B-17s in flight. (Courtesy of the USAFR)

B-17s in flight. Image courtesy of the United States Air Force.

 

B. What was your altitude on your way back?

 

G. Well we started off on our bombing altitude. I don’t know what it was. It was pretty high, 16000 – 17,000 feet maybe. And then we got banged up with our engines knocked out. So we started losing altitude all the way home. And then I look down and I see this railway car, sitting there in the middle of a green field. And I see a guy running to it. I say to myself “What the heck”! And all of a sudden he fires two shots and one of them went right through the wing. And you know what’s in the wing, don’t you?

 

B. (chuckling) Your gas.

 

G. Well that’s where the gas should be but at this stage in the flight there’s not much gas there. It’s all vapor. So when that shell he fired went through the wing, it just burst into flames. And so now, instead of an airplane that was going to it make England we had to get out. And it was easy to get out. Just walk over to the door and jumped out.

 

B. How many of you were on the crew?

 

G. Originally there were eleven. We had an observer with us. There were eleven of us originally, I’m pretty sure.

 

B. And you all had to jump out?

 

G. Well yeah. Everybody had to jump out. Earlier in the flight, we had thrown out the navigator because he was wounded and had a big hole in him and we didn’t think he’d make it. So I put a piece of parachute in his back so he wouldn’t bleed to death and threw him out. You know what! He was back home and married before I got back home.

 

B. (laughing)

 

G. He was wounded and wasn’t any good to us, or the Germans, so they sent him back. They did that to a lot of people. The Germans took care of his wound. I don’t mean they didn’t do that. They took care of his wound and then sent him back to the United States because he couldn’t be a combat man anymore.

 

B. So you bailed out.

 

G. So I bailed out. Everything is quiet. Nobody is there. And I look down and to this day, if I see a collie running and he’s ‘happy’ barking, I can hear him. I could hear this collie barking with a bunch of kids. That part of the country didn’t get bombed so the kids could be outside playing.

But I turn around and look, and here’s my airplane right on one of the houses, with the big tail sticking out, flames coming out. I figure “Uh oh. How you doing? Happy days! Come to my party!”

 

They were all afraid of me. So a German guard, an old guy with a Volksgewehr [rifle] came out to meet me. And all I kept saying was “Nein pistole. Nein messer” [No pistol. No knife]. Because I didn’t carry a gun. Everybody else carried guns but I never did. And my Colonel said “Why don’t you carry a gun?” And I said, “Cause I come here to fight the Germans in an airplane. I’m not going to take my 45 and sit down there and fight with them. I can’t win them that way”. I had no gun. No weapon on me. I never did have one. I never trained carrying a gun. In gunnery school I carried a gun but that was part of their deal.

 

So other than that, it wasn’t bad. I sat around and they hit me a little bit but not much. The record doesn’t show it so I never was hit according to the officials, but that’s alright. And so they weren’t bad to me. They had me sitting in a corner and they’re talking German naturally. I don’t know what they’re saying. If I spoke German I would have had them standing or sitting next to me having a conversation. But they just kept saying “Amerikanisch, Amerikanisch” [American, American]. They hated my guts because I was bombing their country. And at this stage of the game even they knew that their country was sorely losing. Their big cities were all bombed to hell.

 

B. You were in a small town with one soldier who captured you?

 

G. Well he was an old timer. They used to have old men, 55 or 60 years old, too old to go to fight, or had a problem. So these men would be stationed places to watch for air force men coming down on parachutes. That was his job.

Well he had a gun and I didn’t. So after a few minutes of him holding me, a soldier came. In his coat he had a ribbon and that ribbon meant that he was wounded. It was like a purple heart. He could speak a little English so I talked to him a few minutes. So I said “Zigarette?” [cigarette] and I pointed to my pocket. And he picks up his rifle and holds it towards me. So I put my hands up to show him I’ve got nothing other than my cigarettes. So I gave him my cigarettes. So he had a smoke. I had a smoke. And the old guy had a smoke. I gave them both a couple of cigarettes.

Then once we got into the little town I saw maybe 15 to 18 people standing around. Just like you’d see a picture of a country road. I used to think of it as one of the roads from a Longfellow poem with dirt roads, a side railing and a gateway to go in. That’s what the little town looked like.

 

B. So it was very quaint.

 

G. But once we got close to them, “Oh man”, they flew into the houses like crazy. “Terriflieger” [terror flyer]. That is what they were calling me. They were kids. They were scared to death. And then when I got in this room, they sat me in one corner and they sat in the other corner. Everybody got his gun out and was sitting there like a big hero you know. And I’m sitting there with no gun. And I’m glad I had no gun. Maybe one of those heroes would like for me to have a gun. You know!

 

B. (laughing)

 

 G. I don’t know how long I waited then they took me. Finally I got to Kassel, Germany which was an interrogation center.

 

B. Did you get caught with the rest of your crew?

 

G. No. In fact I never saw them again. When they were taken to Kassel, they were staying in a regular building like in England. They all slept in bunks and everything. I was taken to the same town, same prison, but they were going to interrogate me where the others they didn’t bother with. So every day for 30 some days, I was never in my cell a whole day. Never! All the time I was there, they’d come, open the door and say “Out, Out, Out”. They’d give me my belt. I’d put my belt on. I’d put my shoes on and down the hall I’d go to an interrogating officer. I was going to see him every day but not steady. Some days I’d go back to my room. They’d lock the door. And then a little while later the guard would come back. We got to know each other and we would talk. He had his family somewhere in Prussia. He told me. He had a wife and a daughter.

 

B. So for 30 days while they interrogated you. Did they treat you fairly, like soldier to soldier?

 

G. In the beginning when I first got there, they were like growling at me. And after awhile it was a ‘buddy buddy’ thing. They knew me. I knew them.

 

After a couple of days after I was there, I would meet with a German captain. In my opinion he was an old man. He must have been maybe 50. Well a man of 50 to a guy at 20-something…he was an old man you know! After awhile we got pretty ‘buddy buddy’ because I’d see him everyday for almost a full day. I was in his office a couple times a day. I’d go down there and spend an hour with him. Then go back to my prison cell. The cell was my personal one. Nobody else was in there.

 

He knew my father’s first name. He knew what he did for a living. He knew where we lived and in what town. He knew all the fields I was at in the United States. He was reading them to me off of a piece of paper. That’s why they took me there and not the rest of the crew. You see I had been to all these different places because General LeMay was eventually going to have me go in a B-29. So all this information didn’t do them any good because I had been moved back to a B-17 and then shot down right away so it didn’t make any difference.

 

The amazing thing was that there was one guy talking to a German guard and the guy said that he came from St. Louis. And this German guard said “You come from St. Louis. Do you know where… (I don’t know the actual name of the street) … Do you know where 5th Street and 7th Avenue is?” And the guy said, “Oh yeah. I know where that is. That’s where Heinz’ Butcher Shop is.” And the guard said “I’m Heinz!”

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. That’s the kind of intelligence they had. That’s how close they could know you. They knew everything about you. It’s amazing. And people ask, “How did they do it”? You’ve heard of the German Bund. It was an above ground organization of US German citizens. They were United States citizens who were German. These people would collect magazines and newspapers from all over the United States. Remember, the United States had a whole lot of Germans all over the place. So they would get all these newspapers and magazines, and in those days, everybody wrote to them. So if someone became an officer, your wife, mother or somebody would send it to the newspaper and they would publish it in the paper. And the Germans were getting the newspapers and magazines every day of the week. And somehow they would get them out of United States. Then somebody in Canada or Mexico would smuggle this information to Germany. In Germany, they had people who did nothing else but check the information. So for instance, they did nothing more than check out the name Hauck. And every Hauck that came up they’d find out what he did and how he did it and so they knew everything about you. And so when they were interrogating me, they could tell me my father’s name, which when you consider how many air force men there were, that’s a lot of guys there, and they could tell me my father’s name. And they would tell me my grandfather’s name. And they weren’t wrong, they were right!

 

B. That’s pretty amazing intelligence.

 

G. Well that’s what they did. That was intelligence. They spent weeks and weeks and weeks on it. We thought that it was a bunch of crap. But that’s what really kept them going for half of the war, until we bombed the hell out of them. Then their intelligence didn’t do them any good.

 

And then, all of a sudden one day he said to me, “Well, I guess you’ll be leaving now”.

 

B. So after your 30 days at Kassel, did they then take you to Stalag Luft 1?

 

G. Yes, Stalag Luft 1.

 

Hometown newspaper clipping reporting George's capture.

Hometown newspaper clipping reporting George's capture.

 

 

George's wife received this telegram dated January 13, 1945 officially informing her that her husband had been taken prisoner (that's almost 2 months after the fact). Luckily she had been contacted by a ham radio operator prior to that. If not for him, she never would have known what happened to her husband until this cold telegram arrived.

George's wife received this telegram dated January 13, 1945 officially informing her that her husband had been taken prisoner (that's almost 2 months after the fact). Luckily she had been contacted by a short wave radio operator (mentioned above) prior to that. If not for him, she never would have known what happened to her husband until this telegram arrived.

 

B. And you were there for about 5 months. Was it a difficult adjustment to life in a prison camp?

 

G. It was very organized. We had a guy who was an ex-fighter pilot who was our German commanding officer. And he ran the camp in military fashion. We were all in individual barracks and had our own American commanding officer. In fact, my commanding officer was named Belinski. He was the ace fighter pilot of the European theatre. He was a rat, and no good but he was still the commanding…

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. Well he was a Lt. Col. when I met him, and when he retired ‘God knows’ how many years later, 20 years maybe, he was a full Colonel. And he became an officer by going through the cadet program. Anyway, that’s the guy who was there running our part of the camp. We were all just military and everyday we had two formations where everybody in the camp had to get out and stand in line. I think we had four groups in our prison camp. And every group had to get out and stand in line and the German officer would come and he’d holler “Attention” and we’d stand at attention. And they’d count us and he’d have guys go into the barracks an there was not supposed to be anybody there. And so we use to play games on them. In the beginning we would go under the bunks. The guy on the bottom bunk would get picked to hide under the bunk on the floor. And the German soldier who was sent into the barracks to do the count would poke his head around and then come running out yelling “nein” because all of a sudden, with their count, something was wrong. There was supposed to be 590 of us. I don’t know the number. I’ll just use that number. And it ended up that when they got done that they only had 528. And then they go back and all of a sudden you see all those guys coming out.

 

B. (laughing).

 

G. After awhile it wasn’t that easy because they learned to look in all the hiding places.

 

B. I guess you had to fight a lot of boredom and I guess that was one way to do that?

 

G. I don’t know if you would call it boredom. I guess it was. We didn’t have a lot to do.

 

B. Did you have reading material at the Stalag?

 

G. Sometimes we would get magazines and stuff but they might have been a few weeks old, or even a couple of months old. But we had some things. Once in awhile we would get a couple of bibles. Everything came through the Red Cross. They may have had nothing to do with it but they would deliver the stuff and portion it out to us.

 

B. What else did you do to keep busy?

 

G. I became the so-called cook after awhile in our room.  In the beginning we would get a full Red Cross parcel which was enough that you could live on it well for one week. One man, that’s what it was made for, just one man. The United States made it. The Germans they didn’t make it but they passed it out to us. But then after awhile, they sort of slowed down on the deliveries. We didn’t know this until the end of the war but the building that they stored these in turned out to be full of packages (chuckling). I weighed about 135 to 140 pounds when I got out. ‘Cause we weren’t getting anything to eat. It’s easy to reduce. If I put you on a diet with not food I can kill you without shooting you. It’s easy.

 

For Easter, 1945 George "Mickey" Hauck (the cook) prepared a wonderful meal. Here is the cover of the actual menu.

For Easter, 1945 George "Mickey" Hauck (the cook) prepared a wonderful meal. Here is the cover of the actual menu.

  

 

... and the inside of the menu.

... and the inside of the menu.

  

B. In general, did the guards treat the prisoners well?

 

G. Yeah, yeah. Once we got into regular prison it was no problem. In fact, every compound had one or two German guards who did nothing but walk around between the barracks. If they see a bunch of guys talking, they’d walk over near them. They could understand English well. And the guy we had didn’t even look like a good enough soldier to be a soldier in the German army.

 

B. (chuckling).

 

G. And when the war was over we learned that he was a secret commandant of the German underworld in North Germany. The guy we had in our compound. We don’t know what happened to him because he left before the allies liberated the camp.

 

B. I know that your first, and luckily only, Christmas spent there was in 1944. Your daughter Arlene sent me a picture of a teddy bear that you somehow sent to your newborn daughter Gay, whom you had not seen yet. Can you tell us how you were able to do that?

 

The teddy bear George sent to his newborn daughter Gay while he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 1

The teddy bear George sent to his newborn daughter Gay while he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 1

 

G. It was through the Red Cross. I never had it or touched it. I saw it in a pamphlet and I said “Oh, I’ll take one of them”. And then in the United States, they would send it to her and take the money. I don’t know where they got the money. From the army I guess.

 

B. And so there was a system set up for the prisoners?

 

G. The Red Cross had a terrific system set up for all kinds of things. In fact they had a guy come around every once in awhile, a civilian, who was supposed to be checking on us to see how we were getting along. But a day before he came, the Germans would give us nice blankets to put out which we never had before. And we’d fold them a certain way, because he was coming. And we had pans of food and all this stuff. And as soon as the inspection was over guys came around with boxes and picked up all the stuff and the blankets. You know, that was done.

 

B. (chuckling) So a lot of it was for show.

 

G.  It was all show! Yeah. They didn’t abuse us. Of course we had guys killed because they were trying to escape.  You know that happened.

 

B. I imagine prisoners always had a need to attempt an escape. Was it organized or did prisoners try to escape on their own?

 

G.  Did you ever see Stalag 17? If you saw Stalag 17, we dug tunnels. We did this. We did all these things. And we always had guys who would escape and then get caught. Not right away. They come back and they’d put them away in a solitary confinement cell. But these were guys who were doing it all the time.

People were getting shot. You know, you’d hear a gun going off. Sometimes the guy was aiming at someone who was near the white line. They had a white line that was 25 feet from the fence. I wouldn’t bet my life on it but I think it was 25 feet. It was 18 inches high of barb wire. And that was so you wouldn’t go over that. And if a ball or something rolled over that, we’d stand there and all of a sudden the guard would look and we’d point down. And after a half a day, or maybe a whole day, maybe he wouldn’t let you get the ball. The next shift, that guy might let you reach in and get the ball. It was that close that you could reach it. But if you reached down without permission he could shoot you.

 

B. There was a very specific rule about not crossing this line!

 

G. There were all kinds of rules you know. But it wasn’t always the Germans who gave you a hard time. 

There was a dining hall, but we never got to go to the dining hall. When the ex-World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) came to the prison camp one day we were going to go the dining hall to see him. Our commanding officer said “Don’t go”! So our commanding officer went! “That horse’s butt”! But a few people, the higher ranking American officers, they went. There were about 50 Americans sitting there.

 

Ex-Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) visited Stalag Luft 1 in 1945

Ex-World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) visited Stalag Luft 1 in 1945

 

B. Did he give a demonstration of boxing?

 

G.  Who knows what he did! I didn’t go! (laughing)

I wasn’t rank. I might have been rank but not that kind of rank (laughing).

 

B. (laughing). When the prison was liberated by the allies, the Russians in particular, how did they move the men out of Germany?

 

G.  We flew out of prison when we were liberated by the Russians. There was an air base right there. I could see planes land there during the war. Not many of them though. When we were liberated I can’t remember how long it took…a week, 10 days maybe. We were taken over to the air base in trucks that the Germans had naturally. And then we got in an air plane. I was in a B-17 with 40 other guys. There were no guns on it or anything. And we were all sitting close together. Ordinarily, there’s only about 8 or 10 guys on a B-17 on a bombing mission. But there was about 40 of us all jammed in. In Germany, there were over 100,000 American ex-prisoners of war here to be evacuated.

 

B. Did they fly you back to England?

 

G. No they flew us back to France. We were in Le Havre. And then a little later they tell us we are going back to America. There were boats right there in Le Havre. Le Havre was a big port. And so we walked down and I see all these crummy ships in the harbor. And amongst all these crummy ships there was a little dock that they made. And sitting next to it is this huge German ocean liner, [the Europa]. It was crewed by an American crew. This was the ship I got and I was lucky as hell. In about six days I was back in New York.

 

The German ocean liner Europa was captured by the allies in May,1945 and renamed Liberte by the French. It was used to carry soldiers back to the United States. George was on the first trip across the Atlantic.

The German ocean liner Europa was captured by the allies in May,1945 and renamed Liberte by the French. It was used to carry soldiers back to the United States. George was on the first trip that sailed to New York City.

 

B. So you went home in style on an ocean liner.

 

G. That’s right. In fact, I met most of my crew on the ocean liner. They were down in the bottom and I was up in a room sharing it with four other officers. I never knew these officers before. They were flying officers and prisoners of war. But I didn’t know them in prison.

So I would get my guys and bring them up to where I was staying. And they’d take showers and eat. I would go to a place, like a bar there, and I’d ask for cigarettes and ice cream. My men liked to have ice cream. And I’d bring it all back. And they would stay in my room, all day long, about six of the men that I knew. And they’d smoke cigarettes like crazy and eat ice cream and eat some kind of sandwiches. And then at night time, they had to go down to where ever they were staying in the bottom. I didn’t have to go to bed. There was no checking on where I was. I could have walked around the deck if I felt like it, which I didn’t do, because there was nothing out there to see because it was black. There was no ship with us, we were alone. We were going like the wind. After all, we were on one of the fastest ships in the world at the time. It was big.

 

B. Have you met any of the Germans that you knew since the war ended?

 

G. Well I didn’t really know any Germans. The only guy I knew was the Captain, the old guy at Kassel, but by the time the war ended it had already been a year since I knew him and never saw him again after that. And any of the guards I knew in Stalag Luft 1 were all in prison camps after the war. As far as I know they never came to the United States. So no, I’ve never seen any of them.

 

B. Well George this has been absolutely terrific. I want to thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me and my readers. And please thank your daughter Arlene for setting this up. She has been great. I’ve appreciated it and enjoyed it our talk thoroughly.

 

G. Me too Barry. Okay. My daughter Arlene also says goodbye.

 

B. All the best to you both.

 

G. God bless you. Good bye.

 

B. And to you to. Bye now.

 

 

Happy 89th Birthday Dad. We love you and appreciate your service to our country.

Happy 89th Birthday Dad. We love you and appreciate your service to our country. (from left to right: Arlene, George, Adelaide (above) and Gay).

 

I want to personally thank Arlene Berry for setting up this wonderful chat with her father and a very special thank you to George himself. You are ‘one of a kind’ good sir and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to share some time with you. God bless you and your family. Barry.

 

 

 

 

END

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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If you are interested in other WWII interviews, please read the following from Robert Krauss, historian for the 509th Composite Group (the group that dropped the atomic bombs). 

“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted on December 16, 2008)

 

 
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Mini Posting #1 – “Laura F. Keyes – Congratulations”

March 26, 2009: Barry Cauchon

I want to send out a great big CONGRATULATIONS  to Laura F. Keyes. Last night Laura performed her one woman show as Mary Todd Lincoln for the second time and I hear it went wonderfully. WAY TO GO, LAURA!!!!!!

Laura F. Keyes as Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln in her own 'one woman show'.

Laura F. Keyes as Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln in her own 'one woman show'.

If you’d like to learn more about Laura, please read the interview I did with her in January, 2009. Click on the following link: https://awesometalks.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/an-awesometalk-with-laura-frances-keyes-mary-todd-lincoln-performer/

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

Published in: on Thursday, March 26, 2009 at '5:02 pm'  Comments (2)  
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The Four Soldiers Beneath the Scaffold – The Lincoln Conspirator Executions

March 23, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Yesterday I received a great email from author, Mr. Frank Crawford who has written “PROUD TO SAY I AM A UNION SOLDIER (Heritage Books)”. Frank asked if I could give him more information about the four soldiers who stood beneath the scaffold and sprung the traps on the four Lincoln assassination conspirators. In particular, he was looking for the sources of the information that I had posted. Like Frank, I had initially found conflicting information on the names of these soldiers, so I really wanted to know as close to the truth as I could. Here is what I found out and how I came about that information. If you have any further information on this subject, please feel free to contribute. And please, state any sources that you get your information from. As always, history isn’t always straight forward and contradictory information is common. Enjoy the puzzle.

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The four soldiers responsible for springing the traps. William Coxshall (front left), Daniel E. Shoup, Joseph B. Haslett and George F. Taylor.

The four soldiers responsible for springing the traps. William Coxshall (front left), Daniel E. Shoup (rear left), Joseph B. Haslett and George F. Taylor. Other than Coxshall and Shoup, the other two soldiers in the photo have not been matched with their names.

I started researching this subject about three months ago when I was writing my series called “The Lincoln Conspirators Executions Photos: A Study in Detail” . Initially, the first names I found were published as follows:

Corporal William Coxshall
Private Joseph B. Hazlett
Private Daniel Sharpe
Private George F. Taylor

Two of these names (Hazlett and Sharpe) did not match other sources so I continued my search.

Although these men belonged to different regiments in the Union army during the war, at the time of the executions they all belonged to Company F, 14th Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corps. So my first step was to track down their military records. I searched the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System website at http://www.civilwar.nps.gov/cwss/index.html. There, under Company F, I found their names and ranks although some were slightly different. According the the site, the names and ranks were taken from General Index Cards from soldiers’ records found in the National Archives. Here is how the NPS listed the names and ranks below.

Private William Coxshall
Private Joseph B. Haslett (Hazlett, Hazlitt or Haslitt)(they list all three other versions)
Private Daniel Shoupe (or Shoup)
Private George F. Taylor (but there were also George S. and George W. in the same company).

Seeing these differences, I looked for further confirmation to pin down the names and ranks.

  • ************************************

My next stop was to speak with Roger Norton, the webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site. He mentioned that on page 471 of Michael Kauffman’s book American Brutus, the names of the four men were listed as follows:

William Coxshall
David F. Shoup
Frank B. Haslett
George F. Taylor

Kauffman’s source:  Coxshall identified the other three in a story in the Milwaukee Free Press, January 31, 1914.
  • ************************************

Roger Norton recommended speaking to the folks at the Surratt Society, where many Lincoln experts and researchers share information. Laurie Verge of the Surratt Society and the director of the Surratt House Museum www.surratt.org was extremely helpful and sent me the following information based on my inquiry.

“The title “The Prop-Knockers” kept ringing in my head, and I realized that the late, great James O. Hall had done a very brief article for our monthly newsletter many moons ago on the subject of the four veterans who stood under the gallows. It was carried in the September 1986 issue.

It does not give much biographical detail, and Mr. Hall cites Roger Hunt (another of our members who is great at finding people, especially their graves) as helping him.

Here’s what he listed in a half-page article:

Soldiers were: Corp. William Coxshall. Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. Born in England on July 10, 1843, he died at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, on April 21, 1922. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Beaver Dam.

Pvt. Daniel E. Shoup, Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. He was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, on January 16, 1839, and he died at Connellsville, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1913. He is buried in Hill Grove Cemetery, Connellsville.

Pvt. George F. Taylor, Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. Born in West Gardiner, Maine, on August 11, 1835, he died at Farmingdale, Maine, on December 24, 1915. He is buried in Hallowell, Maine.

Corp. Joseph B. Haslett, Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 1841, and died at Reading, Pennsylvania, on February 16, 1916. He is buried in Reading at the Charles Evans Cemetery.

So far as is known, Coxshall’s recollections are the only ones recorded.

Dr. Steve Archer found this account in an obscure book about actors and the theater (I can’t remember the title at this moment) while researching his definitive biography on Junius Brutus Booth, father of John Wilkes Booth.

Laurie sent this information out to a number of Lincoln researchers and Steven G. Miller, who specializes in the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and the soldiers involved in that chase, wrote back.

  • ************************************

Steven G. Miller wrote: “The book Laurie referred to is: Harlow Randall Hoyt, TOWN HALL TONIGHT. (New York: Bramhall House, 1955)”.

Town Hall Tonight by Harlow R. Hoyt (c1955)

Town Hall Tonight by Harlow R. Hoyt (c1955)

  • ************************************

TOWN HALL TONIGHT is about the grassroots of American theater. The author, Harlow Randall Hoyt, was fascinated with theater and published the book in 1955. His work is still used as course material in many universities today. But the question as to why the article called “William Coxshall’s Recollections” is found in his book is strange and seemingly out of place.

Author Harlow Randall Hoyt included an article in his book Town Hall Tonight called William Coxshall Re

Author Harlow Randall Hoyt included an article in his book Town Hall Tonight called "William Coxshall's Recollections"

So I looked into it a little bit more and what I found out is really interesting. On the website http://www2.powercom.net/~dchs/Personalities.htm I discovered that Harlow Randall Hoyt was from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Lincoln researcher Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) also spent time in Beaver Dam. That in itself is a very interesting coincidence. And of course, the biggest coincidence of all is that William Coxshall (1843-1922) also lived in Beaver Dam and is buried there.

Lincoln expert Carl Sandburg spent time in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin which was the same town that Harlow Randall Hoyt and William Coxshall lived in.

Lincoln expert Carl Sandburg spent time in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin which was the same town that Harlow Hoyt and William Coxshall lived in.

So it is very likely that these men either crossed paths with each other in the early 1900s, or at least knew William Coxshall’s story from local sources.

  • ************************************

Michael Kauffman wrote me to confirm that two of the four men can be identified. Coxshall is front left and Shoup is rear left. Haslett and Taylor are both on the right but which one is which is still unknown. As well, the discrepency in rank is on my radar. According to the NPS records from the National Archives, all four men were Privates at the time of the executions. From the Gardner photos, none of the four seem to have stripes on their uniforms. Yet, two of the four are identified in the above research as Corporals. Could they have been promoted after the executions. It’s very possible.

If you find other sources for this information, please feel free to let me know. If I can, I’ll be happy to pass it along to the researchers who can see how well it fits into the current historical record.

Best
Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

Note: I want to thank Sandra Walia from the Surratt House Museum who also forwarded information to me which confirmed information in this article.

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The Lincoln Memorial: Construction & Dedication Photographs

 March 20, 2009: Barry Cauchon
The Lincoln Memorial built between 1914 and 1922.

The Lincoln Memorial built between 1914 and 1922.

Washington DC hosts many monuments built in tribute to some of the country’s greatest leaders. The Lincoln Memorial is one such structure. The National Park Service administers the memorial and I have reprinted the brief history they post on their website at http://www.nps.gov/history/Nr/travel/wash/dc71.htm.

Once you have read this, scroll down to see some images of approved conceptual drawings, photographs of the memorial and surrounding grounds under construction and the May 30, 1922 Dedication Ceremonies. Enjoy.

LINCOLN MEMORIAL (reprinted from the National Park Service website)

The Lincoln Memorial stands at the west end of the National Mall as a neoclassical monument to the 16th President. The memorial, designed by Henry Bacon, after ancient Greek temples, stands 190 feet long, 119 feet wide, and almost 100 feet high. It is surrounded by a peristyle of 38 fluted Doric columns, one for each of the thirty six states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death, and two columns in-antis at the entrance behind the colonnade. The north and south side chambers contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address. Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved in four years by the Piccirilli brothers under the supervision of the sculptor, Daniel Chester French. The statue of Lincoln is 19 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The original plan was for the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so that the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber. A commission to plan a monument was first proposed in 1867, shortly after Lincoln’s death. The design for that plan called for six equestrian and 31 pedestrian statues of colossal size, with a 12-foot statue of Lincoln in the center. That project was never started for lack of funds. Congress approved the bill to construct this memorial in 1910. Construction began in 1914, and the memorial was opened to the public in 1922. The Memorial is visited by millions of visitors each year and is the site of many large public gatherings and protests. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd by the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 . Damaged over the years by heavy visitation and environmental factors, the Lincoln Memorial is currently undergoing a major restoration.

CONCEPTUAL DRAWINGS

Conceptual drawing from the approved proposal for the Lincoln Memorial

A conceptual drawing from architect Henry Bacon's approved proposal for the Lincoln Memorial

Approved 1/8" scale drawing of the Lincoln statue from late November, 1921

Statue sculptor Daniel Chester French's approved 1/8" scale drawing of the 19'-0" high statue of Lincoln from late November, 1917

.
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CONSTRUCTION OF THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL AND SURROUNDING GROUNDS
 
On February 12, 1914 the Ground Breaking Ceremony took place. Within a year of that event, the foundation and base structure were quickly taking form.
Construction moving along in January, 1915.

The foundation construction moving along in January, 1915.

Another view of the foundation construction from January 1915.

Another view of the foundation construction from January 1915.

One year after the Ground Breaking ceremonies, the foundation was ready to receive the first cornerstone of the memorial. It was laid in place on Lincoln’s birthday February 12, 1915.

Laying the cornerstone for the Lincoln Memorial on Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 1915.

Laying the cornerstone for the Lincoln Memorial on Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 1915.

The next step was to build the cella (inner chamber of the memorial). This began to take shape by early 1916. It still did not have its now recognizable marble colonnade surrounding it. 
 
By late 1916-17 the Doric colonnade and outer structure began to appear. When completed, the final size of the Memorial would be 201 feet 10 inches wide x 132 feet deep x 79 feet 10 inches high above the foundation.
 
The colonnade and roof structure being constructed (c1916-17).

The colonnade and roof structure being constructed (c1916-17). The Washington Monument can be seen at lower left.

 
Thirty-six fluted columns (each representing a state in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death) plus two at the entrance each measure 7 feet 5 inches in diameter. The height of each column from floor to ceiling is 44 feet. Each column has 20 flutes.
 
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The foundation of the Lincoln Memorial carries an estimated weight of about 38,000 tons of granite and marble. The colonnade and frieze are being worked on in this photo.

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The large cranes have now been removed as the roof is now completed. Work on the outer structure still continues.

 

The main cranes which towered over the structure were removed once the roof was completed.
 
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The carvings on the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial were done by Washington D.C. sculptor, Ernest C. Bairstow. These carvings included eagles, festoons, wreathes and the states.

Carving on the frieze by architectural sculptor dkfl

A close up of a carving on the frieze by architectural sculptor Ernest C. Bairstow.

Where Henry Bacon was the architect who designed the Lincoln Memorial, several sculptors and artists were responsible for the statues and carvings found throughout the building.  Ernest C. Bairstow was a Washington D.C. architectural sculptor who was brought on to do the exterior carvings which included eagles, states, festoons and wreathes. He also did the carved letters on the interior.

Daniel Chester French from Massachusetts was the sculptor who designed the 19 foot seated statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Memorial. He, along with the Piccirilli Brother studio from Brooklyn, NY created the Lincoln statue from 28 blocks of white Georgia marble.
The Piccirilli family and Daniel Chester French work on the assembly of the Lincoln statue.

The Piccirilli family and Daniel Chester French work on the assembly of the Lincoln statue.

Royal Cotissoz was the New York Herald Tribune art critic who wrote the copy carved behind and above the Lincoln statue. The words read “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” The carving of the words for this, and the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address on the flanking walls were carved by Ernest C. Bairstow.
Evelyn Beatrice Longman was a student of Daniel Chester French and was responsible for the interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address.
Two large canvas murals grace the walls of the interior. The themes are Emancipation and Unity. These were done by Jules Guerin. Each are 60 feet long x 12 feet high and weight about 600 lbs.
The completed statue of Lincoln (c1943) with the Cotissoz inscription above. The inscription was carved by Ernest C. Bairstow.

The completed statue of Lincoln (c1943) with Mr. Royal Cotissoz's inscription above. The inscription was carved by Ernest C. Bairstow.

 The grounds of the Lincoln Memorial slowly  took shape. The Reflecting Pool does not exist as of yet.
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Construction on the marshlands dedicated for the Lincoln Memorial slowly take shape. The Reflecting Pool doesn't exist at this point and the area is used to hold materials and construction sheds.

Work well underway on the steps and surrounding exterior elements on the site.

Work well underway on the steps and surrounding exterior elements on the site. The steps lead down to the Reflecting Pool which currently hasn't been built yet.

The Reflecting Pool was ready on the day of the Dedication Ceremonies on May 30, 1922.

The Reflecting Pool

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THE DEDICATION CEREMONIES – MAY 30, 1922
 
The Dedication Ceremonies for the Lincoln Memorial were held on Tuesday, May 30, 1922. To begin, Dr. Robert Moton presented the keynote address. Dr. Moton was the second president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama who had succeeded Booker T. Washington as president of the institute. Chief Justice William Howard Taft officially turned over the memorial to President Warren Harding who received it on behalf of the people of the United States.  President Harding then spoke to the crowd. To conclude the ceremonies, Poet Edwin Markham read a revised version of his poem “Lincoln the Man of the People” . Robert Lincoln, who did not speak on this occasion, was a special guest and received a loud ovation from the crowd upon his arrival.
In attendance, but also not presenting were Vice President Calvin Coolidge (who would later become the 30th President of the United States), and Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest daughter). 
The crowd gathered for the Lincoln Memorial Dedication Ceremonies on May 30, 1922.

The crowd gathered for the Lincoln Memorial Dedication Ceremonies on May 30, 1922.

 
Special guest Robert Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln's eldest son) arrives at the Dedication Ceremonies.

Special guest Robert Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln's eldest son) arrives at the Dedication Ceremonies. The crowd gave him a loud ovation.

Chief Justice William H. Taft (former President), President Harding and Robert Lincoln

Chief Justice (and former President) William H. Taft, President Warren Harding and Robert Todd Lincoln.

Robert Lincoln took an active interest in the Lincoln Memorial while under construction. He often had his driver pass by to view it. On at least one occasion he obtained permission to enter the building during construction.

Robert Lincoln took an active interest in the Lincoln Memorial while under construction. He often had his driver pass by to view it. On at least one occasion he obtained permission to enter the building during construction.

A view of the proceedings from the side of the Reflecting Pool.

A view of the proceedings from the side of the Reflecting Pool.

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Chief Justice Taft officially turns over the Lincoln Memorial to President Warren Harding who receives it on behalf of the people of the United States. Robert Lincoln looks on (seated lower left).

 
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President Harding overlooks the crowd surrounding the Reflecting Pool.

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The presenters are dwarfed by the Lincoln Memorial's massive marble columns.

Poet Edwin Markham reads a verse to the crowd at the Dedication Celebration. Behind him sits Vice President Calvin Coolidge, President Warren Harding and Chief Justice William Howard Taft.

Poet Edwin Markham reads a verse from his revised poem "Lincoln the Man of the People" to conclude the Dedication Ceremonies. Behind him sits Vice President Calvin Coolidge, President Warren Harding and Chief Justice William Howard Taft.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (daughter of Teddy Roosevelt)(right) departs at the conclusion of the ceremonies.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (daughter of Teddy Roosevelt)(right) departs at the conclusion of the ceremonies.

Best

The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail

The 15-chapter series on The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail is now completed and posted under the Pages section. To view, please click on the links below to view the chapters you wish to see.

Please be advised that the photographs and content, although historical, are graphic in detail and not intended for children.

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Best

Barry

WHO WAS THE BOY AT THE HANGING (Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos)

March 07, 2009: Barry Cauchon

 

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A boy stands staring at the hanging bodies of Mary Surratt and Lewis Powell in a close up from the Lincoln conspirators execution photo called "All is Done (1)" by Alexander Gardner. The identity of the boy has always been a puzzle for researchers. However, researcher Steven G. Miller published an article in 1993 which may have answered the question.

As part of my 15 chapter series called The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos, A Study In Detail, plenty of questions have been raised by the photos. One puzzling image that caught my attention was the picture of a young boy standing in front of the scaffold in the photograph called “All is Done (1). I had the pleasure of conversing with Mr. Steven G. Miller, Lincoln assassination researcher/expert who specializes in the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. Roger Norton of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site says that Steven Miller is “probably the most knowledgeable Boston Corbett expert in the world”. Boston Corbett is the soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth at the Garrett farm.
 
 

But back in 1993, Steven Miller’s focus was on the boy seen at the hanging. He published a paper in the Surratt Courier in which his research not only argued very convincingly as to the identity of the boy but also names him. It’s a great article and Mr. Miller has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here.  I have added one correction [in brackets] regarding the sequence number in the Gardner series as being the fourth photograph. However, since 1993, other photos  in the series have been discovered, so it is now considered number seven.

 

  

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Is this John C. Collins?

 Article from the Surratt Courier  dated January 25, 1993.

 Who Was The Boy At The Hanging? by Steven G. Miller.

 

The most famous photograph of the execution of the Lincoln Conspirators is the one which shows the four bodies hanging limp and motionless on that hot July afternoon. The widely-reprinted image by photographer Alexander Gardner was the fourth [revised to seventh] in the series that he took that day. A close examination of this dramatic and grisly photo reveals a puzzle that had intrigued scholars for quite some time.

 The crowd has parted somewhat and right in the middle of the soldiers is a teenage boy in uniform. Who was this underaged spectator? Was he a drummer boy for a Veteran Reserve Corps Regiment, a camp-follower or the son of an officer stationed at the Old Penitentiary?

 Thanks to some pieces that just seemed to fall into place this micro-mystery may be solved at last.

 Michael Kauffman located an article called “Recollections of Boston Corbett” by John C. Collins from THE WASHINGTON STAR, April 12, 1914. Collins said that during the last two years of the war he was “the company boy,” a sort of regimental mascot, for the 16th New York Volunteer Cavalry.

 In this article Collins wrote that his older brother William “allowed me to accompany him on his return to the camp after a brief furlough to his home. It was expected that this visit would be of short duration and that after I had had a few days experience of actual camp life I would be returned to my home.”

 

Unfortunately, John Collins wrote, William was wounded in a skirmish with Mosby’s men before John could be returned home. After a short hospital stay William returned to his regiment, only to be captured on June 24, 1864, in the same battle in which Boston Corbett was taken prisoner. Collins, Corbett and several others were shipped to the infamous prison at Andersonville, Georgia. With no one to take him back to New York John Collins was stranded with the regiment.

 

John Collins said: “I was given a pony which had been condemned because (it was) too small for a cavalryman, a uniform was cut and made for me by some soldier who had been a tailor.  . . . I enjoyed all the privileges and shared in much of the life of the regiment, except picket duty  . . . I think it was even whispered that the little white-headed boy had some occult influence in the renown which came to the regiment as the captors of J. Wilkes Booth.”

 

Collins talked about the hunt for the assassins and discussed the character and career of Sergt. Boston Corbett. He wrote that Corbett “ . . . gave me his photograph with his autograph on it after he had killed Booth, and I remember his placing the forefinger of his right hand in the palm of my hand and saying that that was the finger that had pulled the trigger .”

 He also said that he was present at the hanging of Mrs. Surratt and the others. His eyewitness account is particularly interesting. He tells of the strict security that was in evidence around the prison. Outside the walls was, he said, “a double line of soldiers for the entire length, standing by twos with bayonets touching one another.” There were guards at each entrance and signed passes were required for admittance.

 Collins went on to say:

 “I have never quite known exactly how I did it, but I actually went through all these lines of troops without a pass, and in less than twenty minutes from the first attempt I was stationed not thirty feet away from the scaffold and in full view of everything said or done in connection with the execution. I suppose the fact that I was dressed in uniform had much to do with it. I think I am the youngest of living people who witnessed the most historical execution in this country.”

 Collins said that he had reason to regret his boldness after the trap fell, however: “Boy thought I was, I turned away with a sensation of horror and faintness and a feeling that I have never since lost, that I had no wish ever to witness another such scene.”

 Who were William and John Collins? Is there any verification for this wonderful story?

 

The records of the Sixteenth N.Y. Cavalry confirm that William Collins was a private in Company K. Prior to enlisting in the 16th he served in Company G, 28th New York Infantry.

 

According to the regimental history of the 28th N.Y. Infantry John Collins was born September 28, 1843 in Albion, New York. He was in the 28th N.Y. from May 22, 1861 to June 2, 1863. During this time he was captured and paroled by the Confederates twice. He had been promoted to the rank of sergeant when he was mustered out.

 He reenlisted as a private in Company K, 16th N.Y.V.C. on June 20, 1863 and served until October 3, 1865. He returned to Albion and farmed there until his death in March 1904. The unit history of the 28th N.Y. said he was one of the members of the Garrett’s Farm Patrol and received a share of the Reward money, but this is incorrect. Pvt. Collins had close contacts with members of the Patrol but was not one of them, nor did he receive any Bounty.

 

In the Doherty Archive is a letter from William Collins to John E. Hoover, Capt. Doherty’s nephew, written shortly after Doherty’s death. William Collins advised the family on how to obtain a pension for Doherty’s widow. He also wrote about Boston Corbett’s prison life in Andersonville and he mentioned the “bad blood””between the soldiers of the Garrett’s Farm Patrol and the Baker clan. Collins also told Hoover about John Collin’s presence at the Execution.

 In this letter, dated May 10, 1897, he said his brother “ . . . was present and saw the execution. Capt. Doherty I believe let him into the yard. He was only a boy at the time and was enlisted in the Regt as he was too young but he staid with the Regt. for about 18 months and was a general favorite with all the Officers and particularly Capt. Doherty. Col Switzer (Colonel Nelson B. Sweitzer) of the 16th N.Y. Cav. was determined to have him educated and sent to West Point at the close of the war, but he wanted to come home with the rest of us and did so.”

 William mentioned that his brother John was a graduate of Yale University.

 

Yale University‘s Alumni Office provided a listing for John from THE YALE OBITUARY RECORD 1928-29. It gave the following details:

 

John Chamberlain Collins was born on September 19, 1850 in Albion, New York. His parents were Michael Collins, an Irish-born farmer, and Susan Prime Collins, a descendant of a Pennsylvania Dutch family. He “joined the 16th New York Cavalry (although too young to enlist) and remained with it as a volunteer helper, stationed near Washington most of the time; was with that regiment at the time of capture of the assassins of President Lincoln and also accompanied it in the scouting and warfare against Colonel John S. Mosby.”

 After the end of the war Collins attended the Normal School in Brockport, New York. He then moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he founded the New Haven Boys Club in 1874, (“It was the first organization of its kind”, he later recalled) and served as director until 1877. He was instrumental in establishing the Boys Clubs in the U.S. and Canada and worked with that organization for many years. He enrolled in the Yale Divinity School and received a B.A. degree in 1875 and a B.D. in 1878.

Collins served as an evangelist and missionary in Nebraska, superintendent of the New Haven Gospel Union, editor-publisher of THE GOSPEL UNION NEWS and director of the International Christian Workers Association. He died in New Haven on August 26, 1928 and was buried in Whitneyville, Conn.

 

William Collins wrote to Frank Hoover that Gen. Nelson Sweiter, commanding officer of the Sixteenth Cavalry, offered to nominate John Collins as a candidate to West Point, but that John wanted to attend religious school instead. What made him decide on this career? An important clue is found in the only recollection that John Collins wrote about the 16th N.Y. Cav., an article was mostly about Sergt. Corbett.

 

Collins said the following about Corbett: “I do not recall any other man in our regiment who made open religious profession. His tent in the camp at Vienna, Va., was only a few feet from mine across the narrow company streets. I recall him distinctly with hair parted in the middle. When I asked him once why he was his hair in this way he replied that it was because Jesus did so. The men made much sport of his religious views and eccentricities, but he took it in good part. He often expressed the view that he had been divinely selected and guided as Booth’s executioner and the avenger of the great-hearted President.”

Rev. Collins’ life-long dedication to religious and public service leads to one seemingly inescapable conclusion: that he chose this path directly because of the character and preaching of Boston Corbett.

Corbett was a true believer and often inspired religious-minded people with his good works and suggestions of “divine direction.” Rev. Collins was a religious “do-er” not just a religious talker. This sounds like the kind of Christian of which Corbett would have approved.

 It seems certain that John C. Collins was the “company boy” of the 16th N.Y.V.C. and that he was present when the Conspirators were hanged. But was he the Boy in the Photo? How many other boys were there in uniform when the Lincoln Conspirators were executed?

 Sources:

 — Boyce, C.W., A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TWENTY-EIGHTH REGIMENT NEW YORK STATE VOLUNTEERS, FIRST BRIGADE, TWELFTH CORPS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, etc. Buffalo, New York; C.W. Boyce, 1896.

 — Alexander Gardner, Execution of the Conspirators, “Photo No. 4,” “Incidents of the War” series. See, Katz, D. Mark, WITNESS TO AN ERA: THE LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHY OF ALEXANDER GARDNER. N.Y.: Viking Press, 1991. Pg. 189.

 — “Recollections of Boston Corbett” by John C. Collins from THE WASHINGTON (D.C.) STAR, April 12, 1914.

 — “John C. Collins and Boxing. The New Venture of New Haven’s Versatile Ex-Clergyman.” SATURDAY CHRONICLE (New Haven, Conn.), August 5, 1911.

 — Collins, John C., “Starting Something For Boys. A Bit of Autobiography for a Purpose.” SATURDAY CHRONICLE (New Haven, Conn.), December 21 and 28, 1912.

  — William Collins letter to John E. Hoover, dated May 10, 1897, Edward P. Doherty Archive, Wm. Hallam Webber Collection.

 

–Yale University’s Alumni Office, THE YALE OBITUARY RECORD 1928-29. New Haven, Conn.

 

END.

 Best

Barry

 outreach@awesometalks.com

 

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If you are interested in reading interviews by Lincoln scholars, experts, historians and even a Mary Todd Lincoln performer, please click on one of the interviews below.
 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 
 
 

 

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 “An Awesometalk With” LAURA FRANCES KEYES, Mary Todd Lincoln performer (posted on January 26, 2009)