World War Two Bomber visits Hearne, TX

submitted by Everett Gibson

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC).  Relatively fast and high-flying for a bomber of its era, the B-17 was used primarily in the European Theater of Operations.  The B-17 and many other WWII aircraft were repurposed after the war and continued to fly for many years before these warbirds were retired. 

In 1967, an American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-17G-95-DL built by Douglas-Long Beach, was purchased by the Commemorative Air Force’s Gulf Coast Wing “Texas Raiders” group, which maintained and flew the aircraft out of Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport in Conroe, Texas.   

Earlier this month, a military aviation enthusiast shared a special story about this magnificent warbird and Hearne’s small municipal airport.  But, we need a little history of the air field before we get to Everett Gibson’s story. 

Kent Brunette, a local historian, writes: “[The] Hearne Air Field was constructed as an auxiliary landing field for the Bryan Air Force Base (BAFB).  A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project built to exacting military specifications, Brown & Root began construction on Hearne Air Field on August 7, 1952.  Hearne Air Field was finished by March 1, 1954.  Formal dedication ceremonies were held on May 13, 1954.”  A true product of the Cold War era.

A Hearne Democrat newspaper article at the time reads: “Constructed chiefly to provide a practice area for students learning landings and take-offs, the asphaltic concrete strip of the auxiliary field provides an alternate strip in the area should the jet runways on the Bryan base be restricted for any reason.  During flying hours, Hearne Air Field will accommodate a constant stream of T-33 jet trainers under the direction of a mobile tower.  Accompanying the mobile unit will be BAFB ambulance and crash crews.”  The BAFB and its auxiliary fields were decommissioned in May 1961 and deeded to TAMU and City of Hearne.

Today, Hearne Municipal Airport has an FAA-approved, 4,000-foot improved lighted runway with over-runs of 1,000 feet on its north and 2,200 feet on its south.  The original 33-inch thick concrete- and steel-reinforced base of the initial 7200 ft runway makes it a perfect emergency alternative for landing runway if needed since it can handle the weight of large aircraft.   Just such an emergency arose and the Hearne Airport was ready to serve again.  We thank Everett Gibson for sharing this story.

“During the Spring of 1990’s the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17 Flying Fortress made an unscheduled stop at the World War 2[1] Hearne airport.  “Texas Raiders” was on a mission from Ellington Airport, Houston, TX to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX when unexpected bad weather forced the aircraft to land at the Hearne Airport.  The aircraft encountered the edge of a weather system moving across Texas.  The crew of the bomber decided the proper thing to do was to get the aircraft on the ground and let the storm pass over.  We noted our location and saw the Hearne Airport available as a safe location to be for the storm to pass over.   We made a pass over the small airport and noted it appeared safe for the four-engine bomber to land on the runway.  We landed and taxied to a safe area.   The storm continued to build darker and moved over the airport with wind and rain during a 10-minute period.   After the rain, we noted what a quiet and peaceful location we had chosen to stop at.  The Texas Blue Bonnets and Indian Paint Brushes were everywhere around the airport.  The attached photograph shows the beauty of “Texas Raiders” along with the wild flowers at the Hearne airport during a brief interlude of time.  Thank you, Hearne, for providing our airplane and crew a safe haven to stop at.”  

Story submitted by Everett Gibson

Some 30 years after its brief visit, the “Texas Raiders” B-17 flew the skies one last time.  The aircraft was destroyed on November 12, 2022, in a mid-air collision with a P-63 Kingcobra at an air show at Dallas Executive Airport, Texas.  All five occupants and the P-63 pilot were killed.

We are saddened by the loss of life.  We like to remember this Flying Fortress as resting in the wildflower fields of Hearne Municipal Airport forever.

White Cemetery Iris In Bloom

[Hearne, TX – April 3, 2022]

For a very short time each Spring, White Cemetery Iris bloom along roadsides and pastures throughout our County. 

At Camp Hearne, a WWII prisoner-of-war camp located outside of Hearne, Texas, our white irises are special.  Eighty years ago, the largely German POWs were encouraged to “beautify” their environment and amuse themselves rather than complicate their confinement with riots and/or escapes.  So, they built theaters, band stands, fountains with running water, miniature castles and patios in their open spaces between the barracks and latrines.

Adding flowers and shrubs was the obvious next step.

POWs returned from their assigned work duty in the local fields with Cemetery Irises to replant around their new “home.”  These resilient bulbs are still multiplying and blooming throughout the prisoner confinement areas of the Camp.  Many patches of Irises are now in bloom, but don’t wait too long to see them.   They seem to show their white petal foliage for only a short period of time.  The leaf fans remain among the underbrush year around until their next annual debut to welcome in the Spring.

It is a good time to visit the Camp Hearne Historic Site.  Our trails are a bit rough, but certainly interesting.


11AM -4PM

What is a Living History Event?

Chances are you have at some time in your past, “re-enacted” a historical event – possibly in school or church.  Perhaps you were a shepherd in a Christmas pageant or playacted the part of George Washington in a skit.  “Re-enacting” a historical event or character is just that, performing a role or acting.

Living Historians are a bit different.  Certainly, their passion for history shines through. They study history beyond textbooks to develop a vivid impression of a person – common citizen or well-known hero – who is dwelling in our not so distant past.

According to The Alamo’s website,
Living historians tend to be associated with museums and historical sites that specialize in interpreting the past through a format that allows visitors to visualize the past through the use of their senses. Living historians can also be dedicated private individuals who volunteer their talents and services to historical sites and as such are a valuable resource.

The term “living history” refers to a method of interpreting the past through the use of a person or persons dressed in period clothing. The technique is usually enhanced by having the person or persons use period tools and engage in period activities.

So, what can you expect at one of Camp Hearne’s Living History Events?  You can expect to visit with living historians, view traditional exhibits, inspect military vehicles & gear and hear lots of storytelling.  Saturday, June 3, 2023, will be a wonderful way to experience military history and learn more about a Central Texas town’s home front contributions to the war effort.  You can even walk the ground that was shared by German and American soldiers…just on opposite sides of the fence.

Camp Hearne is proud of our Living Historian and Re-enactor partners.  Hope you will join us June 3, 2023, 10am to 4pm.

Lt. Milton Dushan

Camp Hearne Veteran Remembers Hearne, TX

Telephone interview conducted by Cathy Lazarus, Roll Call Friends of Camp Hearne, February 13, 2004

I was quite please to hear from a former US Army officer, Milton Duchan, who was stationed at Camp Hearne for two and one half years.  His cousin had sent him a copy of the Dallas Morning News – Texas Living article recently that reported the Camp Hearne story. 

A time was set and I called him back to discuss his stay at Camp Hearne. When asked his initial reaction to the POW Camp he had been assigned he said there was nothing to do in the beginning.  He arrived when the Camp opened in January 1943, but the prisoners did not arrive until later that Spring.  He simply reported to roll call each morning and then spent time exploring the area.  Hearne, to this Detroit Michigan native, was a “small western town with covers over their sidewalks”.  He liked visiting the town folks in various stores and establishments.  Although small, he was pleased to find out that Hearne had a Club House and swimming pool.  He remembers the Aztec and City Cafes and especially the barber, Casey Moore.  He said a visit to the barber was more than a haircut, but a truly entertaining experience.  “Casey was a great storyteller.”

He visited Bryan a lot. One trip he remembers very vividly.He had made the acquaintance of a local merchant from a Department store by the name of Charlie. He told Duchan that he needed to check on a vehicle in a mechanic’s shop in Bryan and asked if he would like to go along for the ride. He agreed and while there, he saw a car he tried to buy. The mechanic wanted $200, but Duchan offered a $10 deposit until his wife could wire the remainder. The mechanic said it would go to whoever had the $200. When Charlie heard the requirement, he “pulled out a roll of money like I had never seen and paid the man $200 so I could have the car.” Duchan asked Charlie why he would do such a thing for a virtual stranger. Charlie replied, “You look like a trustworthy guy.”

This gesture of hospitality impressed Duchan greatly.  He said that they (the military stationed at the Camp) were welcomed and the townspeople were “quite open and friendly” to the troops.

Duchan had graduated from college when he was drafted in to the Army in August 1941, just 4 months before Pearl Harbor.  He spent his basic training in Fargo, N.D. before going to California as an enlisted man.  He had applied for officer’s training when orders came for him to depart from Sacramento to parts unknown.  He remembers a car pulling up at the dock and a man calling out a list of names.  He was on the list and had to report to Presidio instead of being shipped out. 

When he was accepted to officers training, he was sent to a school referred to as “BI” training. This was “business immaterial” which basically trained officers to handle the “foreseen red tape” necessary to run the Army. The idea was that it did not really matter what unit the officer would be assigned; that is, military police, combat, infantry, motor pool, etc., this officer would be able to navigate through and perpetuate the necessary reports and assurances to keep the unit going. 

Duchan was finally assigned to Camp Hearne where he reports that it was the best job he could have had in the Army.  His days were routine unless there had been an escape that restricted them to the base.  The only memorable events were the suicide of one of their fellow officers who seemed to be a very melancholy young man from the beginning.  The murder of Hugo Krauss was also unfortunate. Duchan had teased Krauss, a German prisoner with strong American ties, that “he spoke German with a Brooklyn accent”.  Krauss was beaten to death by Nazi hardliners in the Camp who saw him as a “traitor”.

As an Administrative Officer, Duchan did not fraternize with the prisoners or their US guards. When asked of his impressions about the Germans, he said they were arrogant. He said, “they had been told that New York had been bombed and that the Army was only treating them so well because they [the US Army] wanted to be treated well when the Germans landed.” The POW’s finally recognized that they were the prisoners and the war was not going in their favor.

Duchan saw the care in which the German prisoners were treated as an important role for the Army. “The idea was that we would treat them as best we could and, in turn, they would treat our US soldiers that were taken prisoners as best they could.”  Even those required to work seemed happy to escape their stockade for a day in the fields. 

For the most part, Milton Duchan spent 2-1/2 years unremarkable years stationed at Camp Hearne.  The days were routine.  The social gatherings were mostly dictated by rank with some intermingling with the US Army Air Corps personnel from the Bryan base.  His wife had joined him and they lived in town on First Street in a duplex.  They had a son who was born in Bryan.

When asked what he remembers most about his experience, he quickly says “the people of Hearne were friendly, affectionate, generous… just very special people.  They made us feel at home and welcome.”

Basically, Milton Duchan experienced 63 years ago something that is still our most tangible asset.  “Hearne was [and still is] one hella of nice town”.

“Camp Lili” Living History Unit

Camp Lili recreates a US Army Signal Corps Company encampment in a forward position in southern France during WW2.

Camp Lili recreates a United States Army Signal Corps Company encampment based on a signal company attached to the 441st Anti-aircraft artillery battalion, a part of “Camel Force” which invaded southern France between Cannes and St. Raphael in August of 1944 as part of Operation Dragoon.

This area was spear headed by the 36th Infantry Division (shoulder patch of Camp LiIi) to which the 441st was attached. Once the beach was secured, the 36th fought up the Rhone Valley to join U.S. Forces from the Normandy invasion.

Almost all equipment and displays at Camp Lili are original WW2 era items. In addition to static displays, the following items are demonstrated, many of which visitors may participate in: carrier pigeons and signal flags, field phone EE-8, switchboard BD-71, telegraph TG5A, signal lamp SE-11, Aldis lamp, portable organ, field phonograph, and demonstrations and blank firing of Garand, M-1 carbine and M1911 pistol.

Camp Lili is a private collection dedicated to preserving the history of WW2 and honoring those who did their part. It is a traveling exhibit and upon request items from the following categories can be included in display: home front memorabilia. Remember Pearl Harbor items, correspondence (including V mail, postcards, etc.), soldiers’ records and papers, photographs, and a variety of other items. Visit @camplili on Facebook.

Camp Lili will be participating in Camp Hearne’s Remembering D-Day Living History Event, June 8. Please join us on this special day. Admission is FREE!  Gates open 10am to 4pm.  Camp Hearne is located northwest of Hearne on FM485.   Visit for more information or contact Cathy Lazarus at 979-314-7012.

So What is a Living History Event?

Chances are you have at some time in your past, “re-enacted” a historical event – possibly in school or church.  Perhaps you were a shepherd in a Christmas pageant or playacted the part of George Washington in a skit.  “Re-enacting” a historical event or character is just that, performing a role or acting.

Living Historians are a bit different.  Certainly, their passion for history shines through. They study history beyond textbooks to develop a vivid impression of a person – common citizen or well-known hero – who is dwelling in our not so distant past.

According to The Alamo’s website,
Living historians tend to be associated with museums and historical sites that specialize in interpreting the past through a format that allows visitors to visualize the past through the use of their senses. Living historians can also be dedicated private individuals who volunteer their talents and services to historical sites and as such are a valuable resource.

The term “living history” refers to a method of interpreting the past through the use of a person or persons dressed in period clothing. The technique is usually enhanced by having the person or persons use period tools and engage in period activities.

So, what can you expect at Camp Hearne’s annual “Remembering D-Day Living History” event?  You can expect to visit with living historians, view traditional exhibits, inspect military vehicles & gear and hear lots of storytelling.  Saturday, June 8, will be a wonderful way to experience military history and learn more about a Central Texas town’s home front contributions to the war effort.  You can even walk the ground that was shared by German and American soldiers…just on opposite sides of the fence.

Camp Hearne is proud of our Living Historian and Re-enactor partners.  Hope you will join us for our June 8th Open House while Remembering the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

POW Escort Guard Returns to Camp Hearne, June 8

During WWII, few people were aware that America was home to hundreds of thousands of German prisoners-of-war.  Because of the Geneva Conventions of 1929, most prisoners were required to be held in a similar climate as their capture location.  On a parallel line from North Africa, the American southern states held many of Rommel’s surrendered Afrika Korps.  More were held in Texas than any other state. 

Hearne, Texas was home to 4800 mostly German prisoners and 500+ US Army personnel.  Our Camp Hearne exhibit sits on the original POW Campsite and reveals a very common story of what life was like for the American guards and their foreign prisoners in America.  Photographs, artwork, artifacts and various military objects housed in a 1943 US Army barracks replica help the visitor to experience WWII history today.  Come walk the same ground as German soldiers marched and America GIs patrolled, here in Central Texas.

Matthew Ware, former Military Police Escort Guard. His first duty during WWII was to travel to North Africa and bring back German POWs to Hearne, Texas.

This June 8, former military police escort guard, Matthew Ware, will be onsite to tell his story.  He escorted prisoners from North Africa to Hearne, Texas and spent some time in military service at the Camp before being shipped overseas.  Other living historians will be discussing their WWII impressions donning WWII uniforms, gear and weapons.  The Lone Star Military Vehicle Preservation Association will have a small “motor pool” of vintage trucks and jeeps to complement our stories. 

This is truly a good time to visit Camp Hearne to experience WWII history in a vibrant, hands-on way.

Join us June 8 for our annual Remembering D-Day Living History Event.

Admission is FREE!  Gates open 10am to 4pm.  Camp Hearne is located northwest of Hearne on FM485.   Visit for more information or contact Cathy Lazarus at 979-314-7012.

“So Far From Home”

Photo:  Rosemary Hoyt [not related to Hoyt’s Drug Store] standing by Hearne City Limit sign in 1943.  Hearne’s “skyline” is in the distance over her right shoulder.

This article was a Literary Journalism assignment completed by Mrs. Hoyt’s grand-daughter while attending the University of Indiana.  The interviews of Rosemary Hoyt and Dr. Michael Waters, TAMU, were conducted in March of 2004.  Permission was granted by author to publish.

So Far From Home

“Lili Marleen,” a song about a girl who waits patiently for her soldier to return home, was picked up as an unofficial anthem by both Allied and German soldiers after the German Forces Radio began broadcasting it to the Afrika Korps in 1941.

Vor der Kaserne vor dem grossen Tor
Stand eine Laterne, und stebt noch davor,
So wolln wir uns da wiedersehn
Bei der Laterne wolln wir stehn,
Wie einst Lili Marleen, wie einst Lili Marleen.

It was June 1943 and Rosemary and John Hoyt [not related to Hoyt’s Drug Store] were living in Hearne, Texas.  Immediately after the wedding, Rosemary had moved to San Antonio where John was stationed, but then he got orders to report to a prisoner of war camp in Hearne, Texas.

“In the army, you know, when you got orders, you were to report at so and so place by a certain date and that’s where you would be,” Rosemary says.  So she and John went to Hearne – “a real little country cow town.”

At that time, the railroads were still running strong and Hearne was hopping with Army men and their wives, but at 21, after spending a year in San Antonio, Rosemary wasn’t much interested in the town.

“They had big cattle farms,” she says, “a little eating place, a bank and a post office, and that’s about it.  There was not much else there.”

The old man who owned the house where Rosemary and John were living, owned cattle and sometimes he’d take her with him to the cattle auctions.  But most of the time, when John went out to the base each day, she had nothing to do.

It wasn’t long before Rosemary got bored of sitting in their one-room apartment.  She began wandering around town during the day, and soon, she got tired of that too.  Texas was hot, humid and mostly empty.  Whereas San Antonio had been big and bustling – completely different from German village in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d grown up – Hearne was small and out of the way.  That’s probably why the prisoner of war camp was put in Hearne, she decided.

One day, when John went off to the base, Rosemary made up her mind to “hire a taxi cab to take me on out there.”  She figured the Army must need people to work at the base. Maybe they would need a typist.

When the taxi arrived, Rosemary marched down the gravel road, passed the guard at the gate and on into the camp.  To her right were barracks for the American officers stationed at Camp Hearne.  She and John could have gotten their living quarters there too, but none were available when they arrived.  Instead, they had to find their own place to live in town and all they could get was a single bedroom in someone else’s house.

 “We want your full name,” the Army officer said.

“Rosemary Schumacher Hoyt,” she answered.

“Are you German?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you understand the language?  Can you speak and understand German?” they asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Would you object to working in the hospital?  It’s inside the compound where all the prisoners are kept.  The prisoners all work in the hospital too,” they told her.

The hospital!  That’s where John works, she thought.

“No,” Rosemary answered, “I wouldn’t mind at all.”

The officers led her into the prisoner’s compound and then took a right down the gravel road.  Camp Hearne wasn’t a pretty place, by far, but then again it wasn’t made to be pretty – it was just for use until the war was over.  The compound was divided into three sections for the prisoners to live in (each with a mess hall, lavatory, company office and six barracks) and a section for the hospital.

To get to the hospital, she had to walk passed the prisoners’ barracks, 20-foot wide by 100-foot long buildings the Army called “war mobilization structures.”  They were made of wood and most just had black tar paper covering the outer walls, but the hospital buildings were a bit nicer and were covered with wooden siding painted white.

When Rosemary reached the hospital, she was escorted to Major Redwine, her husband John’s boss.  Well, he was everyone’s boss because he was the chief doctor in charge of the hospital, but Rosemary could tell he was a nice man and she liked him right away.  Major Redwine was older and he had served in the Army for years.  He was also a Texan, which might explain why he seemed right at home in the surroundings.

“You’ll do just fine,” Redwine told her and showed Rosemary to her new, little office.  Well, she hadn’t even had time to see the place when who comes walking down the hallway but John!  At first he walked right by, without even noticing, then he heard Rosemary talking and did an about face back into the Major’s office.

“What are you doing here?” John asked her.

Before she could answer, Major Redwine came out and said, “Lt. Hoyt, please do not bother my new secretary.”

Every morning after that when John went into the base for work, Rosemary went with him.  Rosemary didn’t know how much the Army would pay her as a typist, but she figured whatever she got would be more than she’d had before.

As far as she knew, Rosemary was the only woman working in the hospital – all the rest were men.  Well, she knew a few women worked in the business office outside of the compound, but she was the only one inside and the only way to get inside was to pass by the guards at the checkpoint.  “You see, the compound was a barbed-wire affair, with great big, high wire walls and guards in towers with guns,” Rosemary said.  The guards needed to know who you were and where you were going.  If you worked in the compound, the guards got to know you, but that just meant they knew exactly where you were supposed to be when.

Everyday, the guards went through Rosemary’s pocketbook, once going in and once again on the way out.  It didn’t seem to matter that Rosemary wasn’t an officer – the guards checked John too – but with about 4,700 prisoners to keep inside the compound, they were understandably cautious.

The guards told her once if they told her a thousand times not to carry anything in her pockets and to put just personal stuff in her purse.  Still, the day came when Rosemary tried to take in a couple of magazines.  Just magazines, she thought, but the guards told her she wasn’t to do that.  She wasn’t allowed to bring anything in or take anything out.  No papers, no magazines, no books – no nothing.  She didn’t really understand why, but they took her magazines anyway and wouldn’t give them back until she went out the gate that night.

Rosemary and John were still working at Camp Hearne at Christmas time, when the prisoners put up a Christmas tree.  It was all decorated, and Rosemary thought it was such a sad thing that on Christmas, the young German men were so far from home.  To her, the prisoners seemed very unhappy.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so sad if she didn’t know them, but well, she couldn’t help but get to know them.  She could talk to them, couldn’t she?  The Army didn’t really want anyone working in the compound that couldn’t understand German.   Most of the prisoners didn’t speak or understand English – at all – and made no attempt to learn.  If you couldn’t speak German with them, you were just out of luck because they weren’t going to learn English.

This meant that John had to speak German too.  He’d really picked it up quickly when he joined the Army and by the time they were stationed at Camp Hearne, he was almost as fluent as Rosemary.  The Army had a class and, of course, he could get help from Rosemary.

Unsre beide Schatten sahn wie einer aus.
Dass wir so lieb uns hatten, das sah man gleich daraus
Un alle Leute solln es sehn,
Wenn wir bei der Laterne stehn,
Wie einst Lili Marleen, wie einst Lili Marleen.

Wolfgang Heineke was a prisoner and he worked in the hospital, in fact, sometimes he worked for Rosemary.  His job was just to be there to do whatever the hospital staff needed him to do.  If there was a hall to be swept, or if Rosemary wanted to send a message from Major Redwine over to another building, then Wolfgang was there to do it.

After a while, Rosemary got to know him.  Wolfgang was young, maybe only 18 or 19 years old and, of course, he was from Germany, with a wife and new baby waiting for him back home.  Wolfgang would often tell Rosemary how he unhappy he was – he wanted very much to go home and see his family again.

So it was that Rosemary got used to the German prisoners, one by one, day by day.  She figured they were just people like anyone else.  It’s not that she forgot the young men were prisoners – it’s just that they were so young.  Most of the prisoners she met were under 25 years of age.  A big group of them had all been picked up together in North Africa.

No, she knew they were prisoners.  There was no telling what they did when they were in the German Army.  Still, she believed the young men were probably put in that position by the German Army and, well, because bad things just happen in wars.  As far as she could tell, most of them were decent men and when prisoners like Wolfgang came in to Rosemary’s office, she knew it was important to be able communicate.

There was one day, Rosemary wanted her window up, but try as she might, she couldn’t get it open.  It was stuck.  The hospital didn’t have air-conditioning, nor did the other buildings in the camp.  Really, Rosemary felt lucky to have a window to open at all.

She decided the stuck window was a good job for Wolfgang.  She called and he came right over.

“Macht das Fenster auf,” she told him.

He said “Nein nein, Fenster auf gemacht.”

In other words, she had said it wrong, but she didn’t care.  Instead, she just motioned for him to put the window up – and that’s what exactly he did.

Schon rief der Posten: Sie blasen Zapfenstreich
Es kann drei Tage kosten! Kam’rad, ich komm ja gleich.
Da sagten wir auf Wiedersehn.
Wie gerne wollt ich mit dir gehn,
Mit dir Lili Marleen, mit dir Lili Marleen

 Camp Hearne was built right before Rosemary and John arrived in Hearne.  The camp’s first prisoners were captured in Tunisia in May 1943 from Rommel’s Afrika Korps.  During World War II, Texas had more than 50,000 prisoners in 70 different camps.  Of these, Camp Hearne was the third-largest POW-only camp in Texas.

The good thing about the camp was that it had just about everything the prisoners might need.  It had rows of wooden barracks, a post office, and a hospital – all inside the barrier.  The bad thing, for the prisoners anyway, was that they had to stay there until the war ended.

Inside the hospital was a “great big cafeteria,” with “long tables and chairs right after one another,” Rosemary says, “and everyone could sit wherever they wanted to sit.”  All the prisoners working in the hospital ate there, the officers ate there, and John and Rosemary ate there too.

“Course you know they had the German boys cooking and it was real good,” Rosemary says.  “It was all German food.  Those German boys could cook.”

Rosemary thought this was just great, not because it was German cooking – her favorite – but because it meant she didn’t have to cook.  She and John could take their meals there and lots of times, they ate breakfast, dinner and supper at the hospital.  Sometimes she felt like they practically lived at Camp Hearne.

The hospital was also good for more than just its mess hall.  It provided basic medical care for everyone in the camp.  If a prisoner got sick, he was put in a hospital bed with someone to look after him.  Every once in a while, one would come in with a severe illness or injury and the Army would have to send him to a bigger hospital somewhere.

John role was as a medical administrative officer for the hospital.  Rosemary didn’t exactly know what that meant – she just knew that he took care of hospital office business.  She also knew that Major Redwine was the doctor in charge and they had one or two other staff doctors.  The hospital even had a little emergency room.

Rosemary knew that last part first-hand because one day, she got sick and had to go to the emergency room.  The young man who ran it was a medical orderly named Fritz (Haus?).  Fritz was a little older than Wolfgang and he had medical experience.  Maybe he had been a medic in his troop, thought Rosemary, before he was captured.

He mixed up some medicine and gave it to Rosemary, and Rosemary didn’t even think about what she was taking.  She just gulped it down and thanked him.  Turns out the medicine worked fine, but she later realized he could have knocked her out with it if he’d wanted to.  She was sure glad he didn’t.

Deine Schritte kennt sie, deinen zieren Gang
Alle Abend brennt sie, mich vergass sie lanp
Und sollte mir ein Leids geschehn,
Wer wird bei der Laterne stehn,
Mit dir Lili Marleen, mit dir Lili Marleen?

Hearne was probably not even considered a big camp, but then again, Rosemary thought, it was hard to tell how many prisoners they had there.  From her perspective, everything at camp ran smoothly.

“But, I’m sure there was a lot I didn’t know,” she says.  “I know there was.  Well, that’s why they had these Army officers there that ran everything.  I’m sure they had problems with the prisoners, but I never knew.”

She got the feeling that most of the prisoners accepted the fact they would be at Camp Hearne until the war ended.  They had no choice – they just had to live there and make do.

What she maybe didn’t know was that Camp Hearne’s prisoners were divided into pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi supporters.  Although the Army tried to isolate the groups in separate sections, one prisoner was murdered when his fellow prisoners decided he might be a spy.  It was hard even for the Army to keep an eye on them all day, every day.

Prisoners did sometimes escape from Camp Hearne, but most didn’t make it too far.  One man got out and headed down the road towards Franklin, the next town over, “wearing civilian clothes over his camp uniform and heartily singing German army marching songs,” wrote Texas A&M Professor Arnold Krammer about the prisoner.  “He was gently returned to camp and for some reason could not understand how the local farmer who caught him had seen through his clever disguise.”

Sometimes Rosemary got a glimpse of trouble among the Army officers as well.  Her job was to type letters for Major Redwine and to take care of his books – to do whatever he wanted done.  One set of letters she typed was for a big investigation involving a Major who had shot himself in the head.  A man named Lt. Post headed up the inquiry and she got to read about it as she typed up the paperwork.  At first the Army thought the Major had been shot by a prisoner, but Lt. Post’s investigation showed that the officer had shot himself.  The Army sent the wounded officer away to a mental institution.

The camp, or at least the hospital, was fine, even pleasant most of the time, but there was an undercurrent of troubles surrounding the war.  Rosemary felt that something was always going on at Camp Hearne.  She thought that the Army watched the prisoners closely, but that sometimes it wasn’t close enough.

Mail was a big item for the prisoners because it brought them news from home, despite the fact that both the Americans and the Germans censored the letters and packages.  “One side blacked out words, and the other side cut them out,” former Camp Hearne POW Heino R. Ericksen said, “all that was usually left were greetings and personal information.”

Things went well enough with the mail system that in 1944, a few months after John and Rosemary left, Camp Hearne became a mail distribution point for all the German POWs in the United States.  Prisoners were put to work in the mailroom and a small group of pro-Nazi prisoners began using the system to terrorize other prisoners and their families back in Germany.  Eventually, the Army discovered the scheme and shut down the mailroom in July 1945.

In 1943 and ‘44, prisoners working at the camp were probably stationed in a shop repairing blankets and raincoats.  Some got a hold of enough raincoats to build a make-shift raft and tried to sail down a nearby river to Germany.  They didn’t get far before they were spotted and brought back to camp.  Seems that most of the prisoners didn’t really understand where they were in relation to Germany.

Other prisoners were given road and field work to do.  In the morning, local farmers took prisoners out of the camp in trucks to harvest cotton, onions and peanuts – stuff like that – then back into camp at the end of the day.  However, the vast majority of prisoners at Camp Hearne, around 80 percent, were non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who through the Geneva Convention, were not required to work.

These prisoners could spend the day playing soccer, practicing gymnastics or painting.  In fact, life at Camp Hearne was better than what many of the prisoners had left behind in Germany.  NCOs were paid about three dollars a week, unless they wanted to earn a bit more by taking a job in the camp like Fritz and Wolfgang.  Enlisted men earned around 80 cents a day for their labors.  Prisoners were paid in canteen coupons – enough to buy cigarettes at the end of each day.

When Rosemary and John left Camp Hearne in 1944, the prisoners gave Rosemary a large oil painting of a German landscape with a little house in it.  Unfortunately, over the decades, she’s lost it somewhere along the way.

For most of the German prisoners, the fight was no longer against the Allies, but against boredom.  Activities, classes and elaborate projects were developed to kept them entertained, and in later years, Camp Hearne had a prisoner’s theatre complete with an orchestra pit.  Several prisoners passed their time building gigantic, detailed water fountains that looked like German castles or made little ponds to keep goldfish and turtles.  It’s easy to see why townsfolk sometimes referred to the camp as the “Fritz Ritz.”

One prisoner of war, Wilhelm Sauterbrei, returned years later and was interviewed by a Houston reporter.  The reporter mentioned that as an NCO, he must have had it pretty easy.  Wilhelm replied, “I’ll tell you, pal.  If there is ever another war, get on the side that America isn’t, then get captured by the Americans – you’ll have it made!”

Aus dem stillen Raume, aus der Erde Grund
Hebt mich wie im Traume dein verliebter Mund.
Wenn sich die spaeten Nebel drehn,
Werd’ ich bei der Laterne stehn
Wie einst Lili Marleen, wie einst Lili Marleen

Most of the camp has been torn down now.  Only a few noticeable structures remain in an otherwise tree and bush-choked field.  After the war, people from Hearne moved several buildings from the site – one into town for a dentist office, and a couple more down the road for school buildings.  Nothing much else remains.

When Camp Hearne closed in 1947, the prisoners were eventually released back to Germany, some with a lay-over in England, but Rosemary and John were far away by then.  In 1944, John received orders to report to Indian Gap, Pennsylvania, and from there he went overseas.  Rosemary returned to her father’s house in Ohio until John returned from the war.  She kept in contact with Wolfgang for a year or two after the war was over and was glad to know he got back home safely to his wife and child.


Lorenzo Portis (Calvert)

Lorenzo Portis
Lorenzo Portis

In World War II, most African-American soldiers were not allowed to go into combat.  Many were sent into the Quartermaster Corps where several units gained distinction for lightening-like delivery of weapons, ordinance and food. But, for some like Calvert’s Lorenzo Portis, the Quartermaster Corps translated into combat as they fought the Japanese to deliver their loads.

Portis’ job was to deliver bombs through sniper-invested jungles to an Army Air Corps ammunition dump in the Philippines. From the cargo ship port of entry to the dump, Portis often had to fight his way through 30 to 40 miles of territory that the Japanese had not relinquished. In recent years, he hadn’t thought a great deal about his tour of duty until Katrina and Rita flattened parts of the Gulf Coast. The devastation reminded him of what he had seen in WWII.

Lorenzo Portis was born and grew up in Hickory Flat on the south end of Calvert, the oldest of 13 brothers and sisters. Though he started school in one of the little church supported primaries in the county, he soon transferred to what is now W.D. Spigner to become a member of the school’s “first” first grade class in 1928.

Living with his grandparents during each school year, Portis stayed with his Calvert class until he left school just short of graduation. He got married and moved to Houston to work because he didn’t want to farm any more. Then the war caught up with him and he was drafted. He brought his wife back home to Calvert and went to San Antonio to enlist.

From San Antonio, he was sent to Ft. McClennan, Alabama, for four months of infantry training that the Army probably didn’t intend for him to use. Several months later, it came in handy.

From Alabama, Portis was sent to Ft. Ord, California, on the Monterey Bay Peninsula, a place many have called the most beautiful military base in the United States. For Portis, it was the jumping off place. He was soon aboard the U.S. Gen. William Wagner headed for the Philippines.

The voyage took 26 days and he was seasick for about three, but after those first days, he adjusted. On board, he met a friend of his from Red Hill just south of Calvert, and they made the trip together.

Within 15 minutes of going ashore at a point just south of Manila, he and a buddy were introduced to the realities of war. “We were sitting on a log and one bullet killed the man beside me and the one behind him – one shot killed them both,” said Portis.

Portis’ assignment with the 3666 QM Trucking Company was to drive a truck carrying two bombs to the ammo dump, turn around, and repeat the trip. The road was frequently booby-trapped and Portis had to wait for the all clear before each run. One time early in his tour of duty, he was held up near the port in a foxhole for three weeks. Heavy bombing in the area prevented him from delivering his load, but life in the foxhole wasn’t much safer. “If you dozed off, the Japanese would come in and cut our heads off,” said Portis. On more than one occasion, Portis saw headless follow GI’s in neighboring foxholes. He spent a lot of time behind a big rock protecting him from heavy enemy fire.

On his 30 to 40 mile runs, Portis frequently had to lob hand grenades into the jungle to discourage enemy attacks. The problem was the timing was off. Before the grenades exploded, the Japanese could throw the grenade back into the truck convey. A few trucks were lost that way. The Army had to shorten the time from pulling the pen to explosion to make grenades US rather than Japanese weapons again.

Though Portis was safer in camp, he wasn’t much safer or free of combat duties. To return frequent enemy fire, he and a partner manned a bazooka. His job was to take the coordinates radioed in from observers in planes above the area and line up the sight.

Portis remembers with fondness a little 12-year-old Philippine boy who came into camp dragging a gun. The Japanese had wiped out his family and probably his whole village and the Americans took him in. One day he started “raisin’ up sand” and pointing at the camp’s water tower. The Americans saw a man up on the water tower but thought he was repairing something. Soon after, the boy took his gun and shot the man off the tower. The GI’s later realized that the man was Japanese and he had been attempting to poison the water and kill everyone in camp. He liked that 12-year-old boy.

“We learned their language,” said Portis, at least the basics. He remembers the gestures for “come in” and “go away” were just the opposite of ours.

Portis sent all but $44 of his small paycheck home each month because he didn’t have as much use for it as his family did. It was too dangerous to leave the camp and go into town.

Despite its horrors, Portis says his time in the service was good. His wife received $121 a month, enough to live on in Calvert during WWII.

After the war was over, Portis drove a bus hauling merchandise over the island because he did not have enough points to go home. When he had enough, he took a ship home to Camp Stormer in California (the trip was only 14 days on the way back) and from California, he traveled by train to San Antonio to be discharged in 1946.

Speaking of his service to his country, Portis said, “I was fighting for my country so it was all right. I’m just glad I lived through it.” After returning home, he attended Veterans’ School in Waco to study mechanics and then shoe repair. He never liked putting engines back together but he liked the shoe business. “I learned how to make shoes. I liked it.”

First Published in the Hearne Democrat, Oct 19, 2005  Melissa Freemen, Reporter

Joe Ondrej (Hearne)

Joe Ondrej
Joe Ondrej

World War II veteran Joe Ondrej has done some living in his 86 years. By land, sea and air, he is traveled thousands of miles from his original home on a farm near Cameron. And, in his long journey, he’s out-lived all of his people. “When you lose all your people, what do you do? Ondrej asks. You turn to your friends, your memories and the Creator.

And, Ondrej has a wealth of memories to draw on, memories of events he can still see vividly in his mind’s eye. He was mentally playing them back last Thursday when Ondrej gave an account of his service in World War II and his years as a mechanic and auto parts supply man in Hearne, the town he spend most of his 86 years in.

Speaking from the Bremond Nursing Home, Ondrej began at the beginning. “I was born on June 29, 1921, in Cameron Texas, Milam County,” he said. After graduating from Milam High School in 1939, he volunteered to go into the military well ahead of the war and the draft. But, he didn’t want to go into just any branch. He wanted to fly.

To fly in the Army Air Corps, one had to have at least one year of college, Ondrej explained. And, he was willing to go to college if that’s what it took. Instead, he went before a panel of five servicemen ranging in rank from lieutenant to general and answered their questions. “When thy got through with me, they all agreed I was qualified to fly.” He was 18 years old.

After being inducted into the military at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Ondrej was sent to Randolph Air Force Base and assigned to the 47th School Squadron for training on the BT 7 and the BT 13 trainer planes.

“I wanted to see the world and get a little action,” said Ondrej. “I’ve always been an aggressive-type person. I’ve always looked for things to do and always had faith and positive thinking.”

At Randolph Field just out of San Antonio, “I went in as a private and made all seven enlisted ranks in ten months”   Ondrej was a master sergeant at age 19. During those 10 months, he worked as an airplane mechanic, a crew chief, line chief and technical inspector in charge of routine inspection and maintenance of aircraft and fire and safety for the entire base.

One of his more interesting duties as Technical Inspector was safety observer on pilot instrument flights—part of a pilot’s training. He had to watch from a seat in the cockpit while a pilot flew hooded, relying entirely on instruments.

Ondrej took care of maintenance at Randolph until the war began in December 1941. The following month, the squadron was split up and sent to different locations with Joe and his brother Ed, who had been stationed with him since ’39, being sent to Coffeyville, KS, to help open an advanced training base. There, bomber crews-in-the-making flew AT 6’s and AT 17’s (AT standing for advanced training).

At Coffeyville, Ondrej served as technical inspector and set up the inspection office for the base. His team included four inspectors, a secretary and an engineering officer. But, as productive as all that was, Joe’s passion for action was not satisfied.

“I walked into the office one day and told the engineering officer and the squadron commander that I wanted to be sent overseas. My brother Ed who held the same rank and did the same job asked me, ‘Are you losing your mind?'”

Joe replied, “Anybody can do this job.” He explained that he had set up the office and it could run by itself. So, the Army sent him to Greensborough, North Carolina, a port of embarkation.

There, he received training in all the handheld weapons the Army Air Corps used–the M-1 carbine, the 45-caliber army pistol and the 45 caliber Thompson machine gun. His experience with the Thompson machine gun was memorable. “There was no way you push the trigger and hold that gun steady.” If you were aiming at a wall, the bullets would climb up the wall.

Training completed, Ondrej boarded a big ship, part of a 100-vessel convoy, and took off across the Atlantic in the dead of winter. It was miserable. The rain, the snow and ice, the wind and the freezing temperatures made it unpleasant for the troops and the 2,500-man crew. But, said Ondrej, it was well protected from German U-boats by two lines of destroyers that surrounded the entire convoy. The destroyers dropped depth charges when they detected a submarine in the area.

However, they were not prepared for another danger–a case of meningitis. Ondrej saw a burial at sea, but not from military action.

After 17 days of zigzagging across the Atlantic, the convoy landed in Glasgow, Scotland, just months ahead of the Normandy Invasion.

Ondrej, now part of the 398-bomb group, was assigned to a base 30 miles east of London and 45 miles away from the English Channel. Its proximity to the Channel made sense because the purpose of the 398 Bomb group, part of the Third Army, was to soften up German defenses ahead of the invasion of Europe.

For a few months, the crews trained on their Flying Fortresses–the B17E–and in May of 1944, the bomb group started flying over the French coastline and countryside to take out German artillery positions ahead of D-Day–June 6, 1944.

Ondrej served as a flight engineer checking all the gauges, monitors, and other instruments to make sure the plane was running properly, and served as a part-time bombardier. He got the second job when the bombardier, copilot and a gunner of his B-17 crew were killed by machine gun fire from enemy fighters that swooped into their formation.

Being a bombardier was easy, he said. “All I had to do was push buttons.” But, walking over the bomb bay was not. The B17E carried six 500-lb. bombs, three on each side of a narrow catwalk. “You didn’t want to fall off that catwalk,” said Ondrej.

His forays over Europe included five non-stop missions. “We never turned the plane off,” he said. The plane would complete a mission, fly back to base to load six more bombs, and take off immediately. It was harrowing. And, if the crew could not hit their primary target, they had to unload on the secondary target. “We couldn’t take any bombs back to base.”

“We bombed everything flat,” said Ondrej, but when the marines finally landed on Omaha beach after a seven-day delay due to high tides and bad weather, most of them died despite the heavy pre-D-Day bombing. “We suffered heavy casualties in the Normandy Invasion–3,500 to 4,500.”

Flight Engineer Ondrej realized something on those flights over France that made a big difference in combat effectiveness. “In a clip in a 50 caliber machine gun–100 rounds in a clip–every 5th round is a tracer. It’s supposed to show you where the bullets are hitting. I told intelligence that the tracer bullet was giving a false reading because it had less powder and it was falling behind the target. Tracers were eliminated and the knockdown power nearly doubled.” Ondrej had made a significant contribution to the war effort.

Shooting was something Ondrej knew about before he entered the Air Corps. As a country boy, he’d done a lot of hunting. Military shooting practice looked a lot like clay target shooting to him. “I had a better record than a lot of the gunners. I thought I was shooting quail.”

After taking the beach at Normandy, the allied forces under Patton, Clark and British General Montgomery moved into France, Holland, Belgium and then Germany, leading up to the German counter attack at the Battle of the Bulge.

At first, said Ondrej, the American bomber formations encountered little resistance, but the further the 398 penetrated, the stiffer the resistance from German fighter planes. Luftwaffe fighter pilots would fly a few thousand feet above the US bomber formations and attempt to take them out with their guns. The U.S. countered, said Ondrej, with the P51 Mustang–the Cadillac of the sky–taking on the German fighters in high altitude dogfights.

One of his most frightening experiences, said Ondrej, was a low altitude-bombing run (16,000 ft. rather than the usual 25,000 ft. altitude) over Cologne, Germany. Low altitude runs were extremely risky, he said, because they put the plane in the range of German anti-aircraft artillery. He considers himself lucky to have gotten back from that one, dodging shells for miles. “The Germans had mounted guns on railroad cars,” he said, “giving them more maneuverability and longer geographical range.”

In the midst of all this intense Flying Fortress action, the Army Air Corps found out what Ondrej had done state-side and took him out of the air to head up their 478 Battle Damage Repair Squadron Depot.

Before transfer, his last bombing run over Hamburg frightened not only the American bomber group and the Germans, but also Patton’s troops who had advanced 100 miles farther than they were supposed to. Ground control broke silence–something they were not supposed to do–and radioed the 398 with the message, “Hey Fellers, I’m on your side!” Said Ondrej, “I had a friend–Alvie Franks–who was down there. Ike [General Eisenhower] called Patton back to England and chewed him out.” Intelligence had not kept up with Old Blood and Guts’ advance.

Patton, always a man with an apt reply, told Ike something like, “If you will give me the gasoline and the ammo, I will run those Krauts all the way back to Berlin, Germany.” Ondrej said those might not have been the exact words, indicating they may have been more colorful.

Though Ondrej was back on the base, inspecting B17Es for damage and deciding whether to repair them or use them for spare parts, he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

“The German Messerschmitt BF109 looked a lot like the P51,” he said. One day, a German pilot in an unmarked 109 made it all the way into an American base, landed, taxied down the runway and shot up a lot of parked planes, then took off. “He made it back across the channel but some fellow in a P51 (the real thing) knocked him out.”

“We had a huge hanger,” said Ondrej, speaking of his shop and he was working in or around it when he received his single wound of the war.

“I was working on top of an inner wing panel when a German fighter bomber strafed the base.” A piece of flying metal got stuck in his back.

“They got me to the hospital in London and dug the metal out of me. I stayed in the hospital for two days, then they released me to the field hospital on the base.” They wanted to get him back to work, so he was essentially an outpatient, getting medical care while working to return planes back to service.

He paused long enough one day to watch an American fighter pilot “buzz” the base, something the pilot did after every successful mission. He flew extremely low–almost hitting the ground–and flew back up by way of salute. This time, he over did it.

“Hey Lefty,” Ondrej said to a co-worker–“look a that spark fly!” The pilot made a circle around the field and a hasty landing. He was a young fellow, said Ondrej–probably in his mid-twenties. “I asked him, ‘What’s the trouble, lieutenant?’”

The flyboy replied, “When I made this run, I felt vibration in the cockpit.”        Ondrej said, “Well, get on down out of there and I’ll show you.” He continued, “I got him down, walked him in front of the plane, and told him to look at the prop blades.” He had damaged the ends.

“Sergeant, you reckon I’m going to get in trouble?” he asked. Ondrej reckoned he might. It says something for the maneuverability of the P51 and the mentality of American fighter pilots.

Soon, the war in Europe was over and Ondrej was called home. He came back with five metals, including the European victory metal and a purple heart.

His squadron had the option to fly or sail home and they opted to sail. “A lot of the guys said they were tired of flying.”

They sailed out of Glasgow on the Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship in the world at that time. A total of 14,500 people were aboard–4,500 were WACS–Women’s Army Corps.

It was nothing like the first trip–making it home in about five days, which was almost too soon because the QEI was a luxury liner with swimming pools, ballrooms, “all kinds of stuff. The ship was big enough that if you didn’t have a guide, you could get lost.”

When the troops passed the Statue of Liberty, “I waved at her,” and “we docked at peer 92 in New York harbor. It was June 29th–my birthday. We celebrated.”

From New York City, Ondrej took the train back to Cameron “to see my people.” His brothers Ed and Alfred had made it home too and he saw his mother and brothers for the first time in four years. He remembered what his mother said to them as if it were yesterday. “‘I want no excuses. I want you three boys to be here Sunday, and I’m going to cook ya’ll a dinner.’ None of us were about to miss it.”

After two weeks at home, Ondrej reported back to base. The Air Force sent him to Drew Field in Tampa, Florida, to rest, then to Chatham Field to take another technical inspector’s position, this time inspecting the B29. But, in the meantime, the Japanese surrendered after A-bombs demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Ninety thousand were killed in Nagasaki, 100,000 in Hiroshima. I had flown with the pilot that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima when he was a lieutenant at Randolph Field–Lt. Wade. He later became General Wade.”

With the war over, Ondrej went to Ellington Field in Houston to separate from the Air Force. He was released on Oct. 18, 1945. “I had been in for six years and two weeks.”

“What did it do for Master Sgt. Joe Ondrej, number 6299899? It was a college education,” he said. “I learned to work, respect my people, and I learned the value of a dollar.”

He’s also done a lot of thinking about World War II and what it meant. “It was the war that turned the world around, the war that defeated dictatorship and stopped it in its tracks,” a war that allowed Democracy to grow.

Ondrej took all he had learned, moved back home, and then moved to Hearne with his cousin in February 1946, to purchase a little grocery store/filling station. From there, he went on to become a mechanic–working in every dealership in Hearne, then later worked as service manager for Chrysler. In 1957, he opened his own auto repair shop, then, some years later, opened the parts store in Hearne, which later became CarQuest. In 2007, he was still helping people from his room in the Bremond Nursing Home.

First published in the Hearne Democrat,   Melissa Freeman, Reporter