Interview: Barbara Eltzroth (be)
Medium: Audio Tape
Date: Sunday, April 12, 1998
Place: Home of Glen and Barbara Eltzroth, 601 Candlewood, Marion, IN, 46952
Collected by: David Culley (dc)
dc: Do I have permission to tape you with audio tape?
be: Yes, you do.
dc: Do I have permission to give this to the Marion Public Library?
be: Yes, that's fine.
dc: Did the war affect life here in Marion?
be: Oh, yes it did. The..most of the local people in Marion who were women went to work in the defense plants, such as Anaconda Wiring Cable, Peerless Machine, which made anti-aircraft shells; Paranite Wire, which made wire harnesses for trucks and Jeeps, and metal tent tops for stove pipes to go through were made at Ruttenberg Electric. Lanterns were made at Delta Electric. Farnsworth Radio produced all types of radios for the war use. People..men were encouraged to invest in war bonds to support our country. It was a time of strong patriotic pride. The Red Cross and Salvation Army had many activities and recruited many volunteers. The Salvation Army met all troop trains and gave free food to the service men. There was never a charge for their services. Often times, I watched trucks of German war prisoners being taken to work in the old Snyder Tomato Canning Factory, which was located on Home Avenue. The prisoner-of-war camp they came from was located in Elwood.
dc: How was your family life changed by the war?
be: My mother went to work at Farnsworth Radio and my father, an electrician, helped to build the Bunker Hill Naval Air Station near Peru, which was later known as the Grissom Air Force. I was in high school when my brother enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and he was always such fun. He loved to roll back the rug and dance on the hardwood floors to some great music by Glen Miller, and I can't tell you how much we all miss Phil, his friends, and the laughter. It was if they'd all gone to high adventure and had forgotten to take me along. All thoughts were centered on the war news and..but so much of this news was censored at this time so you didn't always know what battles were taking place but we all always listened to the radio. With the war taking husbands, fathers, and brothers away from their homes, it left women alone to raise the family and to provide food and shelter, and many lives were changed beyond repair by these absences. People were very patriotic and the American flag was the greatest and was flown with pride. Neighbors, friends, strangers, and families seemed to bond together for their strength. Letters were so anxiously awaited.
dc: Did you spend much time thinking about the war or did you try to block it out of your mind?
be: I doubt that anyone could block out the war, however, living in America we had never been bombed or strafed and it was sometimes hard to realize what actually..was actually happening. We'd never known such devastation as in the case as some of the other countries. We'd never heard the sirens or had to run for bomb shelters. We never saw our homes or our beautiful buildings destroyed. I was much older before I could even imagine the many horrors of war. To this day I know of nothing more interesting than to be privileged just to sit and listen to the war stories. They are so fascinating.
dc: Were there any special war-related activities in Marion during this time, such as high school activities?
be: I do not remember any special high school activities. Usually it was the Salvation Army and the Red Cross and the bond drives and there were air plane spotter towers located all over the county. The towers were manned by mostly older men and women working four-hour shifts in all kinds of weather. No heat in the towers. They were manned 24 hours a day. Their job was to identify any aircraft flying over. They used identification books to enable them to identify all planes: Otherwise other than just work it was fairly normal.
dc: Were you or any of your family members involved in defense activities, such as factory work?
be: Well, as I mentioned before, we all had defense jobs at that time. Many of those left behind did various kinds of volunteer work. Our country had a great team effort, confidence, and pride.
dc: What items were scarce during this time?
be: Well, this is interesting. Gasoline, tires, oil coffee, sugar, and meat which were rationed. War ration books were distributed and we had to turn in ration stamps to buy any of these items. These were allocated by the federal government. Punishment ranging as high as ten years in prison or $10,000.00 fine or both could be imposed under those U.S. statutes for violations thereof rising out of infractions of rationing orders and regulations. On a lighter side, I remember stopping in front of the Neumode Hosiery Shop on the corner of 3rd and Washington Street one day to chat with a friend. Within minutes a line had formed behind us in wild anticipation of being able to buy a pair of nylon hose..nylons, the premium item for women. Quite valuable asset for men also. Unfortunately, no hose arrived that day.
dc: Did you lose any members of your family during the war? If so, how?
be: My only brother, Staff Sergeant Philip Bedwell, was killed in action after bombing a German Messerschmidt fighter plane factory at Weiner Neutschadt, Austria. Phil left the United States to go overseas on May 22, 1943, was killed October 1, 1943, a little less than five months after leaving the States. It was his tenth mission. Crews were considered to be on borrowed time after about six missions. They had to fly 25 missions before they could come home. So as a tailgunner on a B-24 heavy bomber, also known as flying boxcars, after dropping their bombs, they were attacked by several of Hitler's top Messerschmidt fighter pilots. After the second engine had been hit and disabled, the navigator bailed out. He was injured but later taken to the Unterberger Inn where he was given medical attention and food. Later that day he was taken away and placed in a P.O.W. camp in Germany. The other nine perished in the crash. They were buried together in two caskets made by a carpenter in the small village of Heilbrunn. They were taken by two horsedrawn carts to the Heilbrunn Cemetery. The parish priest gave them a Christian burial at a time when it put him and the villagers at great risk with the German soldiers. They did not like the Germans but had to fight for them. They also feared them. All of the villagers turned out for the burial and they all cried. They, too, had lost many of their own. They buried our men in their cemetery with their ancestors and our men were all buried with respect. After the war was over, the United States Grave Registration crews went into Austria and found their graves in Heilbrunn. Where they crashed was a small remote village and this was an isolated event to them. Our crew members were then taken to St. Evol, France and interned temporarily until positive identification could be made of the crew. Then finally, all nine crew members were returned to the United States and they are buried in one normal sized casket in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint Louis, Missouri. This was completed in 1950. This became a legend with the people in the small village of Heilbrunn. They passed this story down to their children and they did not know who these men were, where they were from, if they were married, or if they had families, but the legend continued and in the summertime small children would take sack lunches and go up into the foothills of the Alps where the plane crashed and they would search all through the area for little, small items that might have been left behind from the crash. Part of the little metal plate on the what they called the belly of the B-24 that protected the pilot and the co-pilot was blown off and it was standing on an edge in some tall shrubs and the Germans did not find it to take it away, but the Austrians hid it for awhile and then one of the Austrians laughed and told me later, he said they were still using it for a stovetop and they salvaged some items but the Germans came in with carts and they took away everything that they could find from the crash site. Actually, it was some time before any people could get near the airplane. It had crashed and blown apart and there was some fire and the ammunition that they still had aboard was going off and continued firing for an hour maybe an hour and a half after the plane crashed. The pilot was found still strapped on his little metal seat sitting upright with hardly any visible signs of injury and the co-pilot was also found with part of the metal seat strapped to him, but he had been burned badly and he was a small man to begin with and the villagers thought that the heat had shrunk him. The other men were scattered in different areas and the place was immediately roped off by the police department from Passail, which was nearby. The police chief at that time brought his young son down and had his picture taken standing near the crash site. He wanted him to see something that he would never ever probably witness again in his life. They posted guards completely around this area and a young man that lived on a farm just several feet from where the plane crashed had been out repairing the spigot on a wooden well thin that..where the water trickled down from the mountain side, and his mother had called him several times to come in for lunch. This crash had happened at high noon and he being a little boy playing around, didn’t pay much attention but he laughed and said the last time she called, he knew she wasn’t kidding so he went to the house and seconds later the plane crashed exactly where he had been standing. Part of the fire reached their home and the head guards were posted at their doors too, but he and his family went up into the attic and brought down valuable papers and stuff they had stored for fear that their house would burn down, which it did not, but they did try to protect it that way. We learned later that they were not allowed to move these bodies until after the Germans had come in and inspected and, of course, at that time then the carpenters built the caskets and they put five in one and four in the other and they were taken in separate horse-drawn wagons to the cemetery which was not far away, and first the stench and the odor of the burning flesh and the fact that they had not been picked up immediately made the horses even skittish. They knew something wasn’t right..the villagers said that their load was not normal what they would normally pull so they had a little trouble with the horses. But they had all the villagers turn out for the service which was conducted by their parish priest, an elderly gentleman who was very frightened to be too specific and show too much respect to the Americans because the Germans, they were caught between the Germans and they really didn’t like those people but they had to fight for them so he was very anxious to get the service over with. They said the perspiration just ran down his cheeks. He was uneasy and so nervous. Everybody in the village turned out and everyone cried and I think it was the sadness of the times really for all the people because they had all lost so many of their young men and husbands from the village. Since then, Gregg Jones, an author, has located the exact crash site in Austria and he went there to obtain information for a book he’s writing about the crew. His uncle was the radio operator, a very quiet farmboy from Missouri. He flunked out once in radio school, but went back the second time determined to fly a B-24. My husband Glen and I joined Greg and his wife in Heilbrunn for the first time in January of 1995, then a second trip with my daughter, P.J. Culley, in August 1995. At that time, we made plans for a memorial to be placed at the crash site, and then the third and final trip was in September of 1996 when the memorial was dedicated. Through the crew’s families and the cooperation of schoolmaster Franz Hausler, we arranged for the plaque to be sent to Heilbrunn. It was ordered from home, in Marion. They placed it on a large boulder that stands at the crash site, which is a mile and a half up in the foothills of the Alps from the Unterberger Inn and it’s near a hiking trail. The plaque memorial faces the tree that Jerk’s Natural, the name of the B-24, hit as they were coming in desperately trying to land in a meadow that had just been cleared a day or two before. They almost made it but just before they got down, the engine of the airplane just seemed to fish hook and then just went into the ground. The plaque was to express our gratitude to the people of Heilbrunn for the respect shown our loved ones. There was a German band in uniform, the mayor of Heilbrunn, Bran Ukin, the parish priest in full robe, Farrell Holra, the Attache from the American Embassy in Vienna, Baron Gudenus who owned the land, and the most interesting part also was the honor guard made up of about 30 WWII Austrian veterans who had fought our men. Just one month earlier on August 5, 1943 the crew had flown the famous low level, long range flight to the oil refineries in Ploesti in the kingdom of Romania with no fighter protection. This was a 2,600 mile round trip flight..nearly unheard of. The B-24 Liberators were 60,000 pound, four engine bombers with a 110 foot wing spread. They flew in sometimes to the target as low as 10 feet from the ground. The Ploesti refineries provided one third of Adolph Hitler’s high octane gasoline, Panzer fuel, benzene, and lubricants. From Ploesti came half of the oil that kept Rommel’s tanks running on the sand seas of the Mediterranean Africa. Approximately 1,733 men from the 8th and 9th Air Force units participated in this mission. Four men from Marion flew not knowing that each of the others was on the mission. One did not return, a neighborhood friend of Phil’s, Staff Sergeant Kenneth Turner. They had climbed trees together as small boys. WWII was fought and won by great men who had grown up during the Depression years, yet they were eager and never hesitated to defend their country. Phil graduated from Marion High School in 1937. The Class of `37 suffered more casualties than any other graduating class of Marion High School. John W. Kendall, later known as “Pop” Kendall, had been principal there for 17 years at this time. Character building in the lives of boys and girls under his guidance was more to him than any other phase of school work. He closely followed all students involved in the war and kept scrap books with newspaper clippings, which are now located in the Indiana Room of the Marion Public Library. War took its toll on everyone. After my parents received the ‘Missing in Action’ telegram, our home life was nearly shattered. I can still see my father shaving in the morning with tears running down his cheeks. My mother cried so much she had to be put to bed. She could no longer work. However difficult, the day came to pass when Mr. Green, our mailman, rang the doorbell holding a small package about the size of a shoebox containing Phil’s personal effects. He said, “Mrs. Bedwell, you don’t know how much this hurts me, also,” and he, too cried. After the war was over, Lt. William Sykes, the navigator, had returned home. My parents went to visit him to find out all the details. Lt. Sykes was very shy and did not share too much of this experience in later years. Finally, my parents were active in the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, and hours upon hours were spent as volunteers at the V.A. Hospital in Marion. Slowly, very slowly, life got beyond the one day at a time thing.
dc: Did it take long for things here in Marion to return to normal after the war?
be: Well, as I remember maybe a better adjustment than I thought. Men came back, got their old jobs back, had families, and started living a normal life again and trying to keep their lives together after what they had been through. Actually, WWII was the best of times and the worst of times. It was strange to have Phil back in my life after so many years. I had gone on with my life after the war and thought that was it. But then when Greg found out about where they had crashed, we went to Austria and it became something I wanted to do and the memorial in Austria was an emotional closing for me. On the first trip to Heilbrunn, Mr. Unterberger at the Unterberger Inn gave me a fleece-lined boot that had been hanging in the rafters of his barn since 1943. When I held it, I felt as though I had put my arms around someone. There was no name or serial number on it, but there’s one chance in nine it was Phil’s. For every man that was in the service and had fought in any theater of combat, there has to be a special story for each and every man, I never tire of listening to these stories and realizing some of the things that these old men did in their time of great stress. In Grant County alone there were 205 casualties in WWII. That generation kept the faith in America during the Great Depression and then proved the faith in blood in WWII and should always be honored and we will always owe them a debt for the sacrifices they made for our freedom and for our country. America is still the greatest.