The personal hand-written memoirs of a World War II veteran who was once held in a Nazi prisoner of war camp over 75 years ago were recently re-discovered by his children.
Deanna (Jackson) Koopmann, the daughter of the late Orville Jackson of Bellevue, who passed away in May, 2018, had a handwritten copy of her father’s memoirs from World War II and wanted to share his words with the public.
“With Veterans Day coming, I was thinking about my dad and what all he went through as a prisoner of war. Years ago, dad wrote a six-page account of his POW experience,” said Koopmann. “We thought it would be appropriate to share.”
Orville J. Jackson was 96 when he died in May of 2018. He was born in Preston back in 1922, the son of Ross and Kathryn (Steins) Jackson. He went to school at the Slab Town Country School in Green Island, and later attended barber college in Cedar Rapids and operated a barber shop in Bellevue for 20 years. Later he worked as a guard at the Savanna Army Depot.
According to his obituary, Jackson had a great sense of humor. He could think of a joke about almost anything. He also liked to entertain people with songs on the harmonica, which he learned on his own as a child.
Jackson was also interviewed on more than one occasion about his service to the country during World War II, most recently in 2016 when he received the French Knight of Legion of Honor.
Jackson, who served in the Army Infantry during World War II starting in 1942, was held as a prisoner of war by the Nazis for several months during 1944 and 1945 after being captured in battle during the Liberation of France.
The following is a recount of that time period, written in his own words.
Handwritten Memoirs of Orville J. Jackson
“I entered the active service on 12 December 1942 and received an honorable discharge 5 October 1945 at the Army & Navy General Hospital, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.
During this time I was in Co. “B” 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Cactus Division and we trained in Camp Clairborne, Louisiana and Camp Howze, Texas. I had special training in maintenance of small arms and was Co. “B” armorer artificer. I was promoted to technician 5th grade (small arms, see qualification record), later promoted to Sergeant.
In October 1944, the 103rd Division sailed to Europe on the Monticello and landed at Marseilles, France on 20 October 1944. From here on, you don’t see any lights on, unless dim. After leaving the Monticello, we walked for an hour or more to where we slept on the ground all night. The cooks fed us breakfast in the kitchen truck, then we boarded a convoy of trucks and headed toward the front lines. Co. “B” was the one to mark the route out to our destination. One person would be let off at each intersection to direct the division convoy through and the last truck would pick us up. (It certainly was a different feeling to be thousands of miles from home, than 35 miles from home, before being in service.) The convoy had traveled more than 100 miles to let us off, to be fed and get organized with enough ammo and start walking. Some time it would be easy walking with no enemy in sight or sound till now, way ahead some shots and we hit the ground. When it was again quiet and we advanced, there were German bodies laying in the timber.
Later – on this foggy wet day, we were scattered out standing near the only street passing this small town, on the side. We were waiting quietly until ordered to advance, when suddenly there were mortar shots up ahead. One of our company got hit with shrapnel and the medics picked him up with the stretcher when firing ceased. My buddy survived. When the explosions were getting closer, towards me, I quick laid down in a trench which the barn yard drained in on one side and at that time, wishing it to be deeper for my safety. After the excitement, we jumped across a small creek and went up into a timber to stay for the night. No one talked above a whisper. I had my raincoat on, so I sat by a brush pile and slept. Before daybreak it was still foggy and we went on the move again. We knew Germans were not far away. We walked across the Vosges mountains of France, with very little contact with Germans. They had trees cut down, so they were across the narrow road, across or through the area. They had to be cleared so the kitchen truck and jeeps could follow us. After getting through the mountains, the truck arrived with our Thanksgiving turkey dinner, but it was spoiled. It took us four days walking across the mountain. We got k-rations and our four-day supply. We opened them just to get the best part out and piled the rest upon one pile. At this area we cleaned our weapons and started walking again, advancing without casualties. It was our plan to pull a surprise attack on this town and take hundreds of Germans prisoner that would be withdrawing from American troops pushing them back. So Co. “B” and other companies opened fire all at once from the top of this hill at the edge of town. While we were firing at the town, our men were advancing into town under our fire. Now they are firing so the (we) rest can enter town from the hill. Our Captain had said, the weather is getting colder, so if we take a town, it means we can stay inside that night. Another Co. “B” man and I stayed in a house while other ones scattered out at other places. We needed some sleep, so would take turns on guard. The next day there were hundreds of German prisoners marched down past town with many guards. It was a night to be alert cause there was action quite often. Later, soon after a little town was bombed, we went through it checking it out and saw a woman’s head lying in the street.
Another night we walked across fields, not far from a highway, very little traffic, only two cars and without headlights on. Orders were not to fire at any, cause it gives out position away, but one guy shot at one car and it rolled off the road. Not any of us firing, but some artillery whipping overhead. We got up to a small river. I walked across the bridge into Selestat. Some went across through water and lost their bazookas. We had advanced too far, was only supposed to go to the river, but assured headquarters, we could hold our position (on Dec. 1, 1944). As usual we all scattered out in different houses for the night. About 3 A.M. one guy says, “I hear tanks coming.” Another says, “I wonder if they are Germans, or ours.” Another spoke up and says, “I don’t know, but we’ll soon find out.” Then boom, boom, boom, from three tanks. One of my buddies says, “Oh, Jack, I guess I’m done,” as he fell (in the dark) across my legs. I had been crouched down on my hands and knees. There was a large hole in the side of the house and through a partition upon the second floor where we all were. Had about 30 German prisoners on the ground-level floor and they all shouted aloud. The Germans outside were calling for us to come out. One of my buddies says, “Are we going to walk out?” and another replied, “I guess we only have two choices, either walk out or be killed, so I’m walking out.” A small fire started in the room, but soon put out. Plaster dust filled the room. I then left my M-1 rifle and 64 rounds of ammo with my bandoliers and was able to walk out after being hit in seven places with shrapnel from the tank 88. There were guys there from other companies as well.
The Germans had us all lined up and counted, then marched about a block or more. Finally told the wounded to sit down on the side of the dirt bank. I, along with a couple others, were put in a house beside us till daybreak, when we were loaded in a station wagon that had board benches on each side. We were taken to a large bus, but had only room for two. Somehow a French man was ahead of me getting on the bus and they only let me on, so now, I’m not with anyone who can talk American. After riding a while in the dark, we were put down below ground level, in a long hallway with dim bulbs overhead and wooden benches on each side, where we sat and slept, not knowing what time of the day or night it was. From this place, I was taken and put in a caboose on a very short train. Later, I asked the guard where the restroom was. I walked bent over and very sore and I looked in the mirror to see just where I had got hit with shrapnel. The shoulder strap on my coat was nearly cut into and a piece of shrapnel was stuck there. I showed the shrapnel to my guard and he asked where did I get that and I was very surprised that he could talk English very good. Not long after the train stopped and the guard got off and ran around beside the train to the front and brought a couple medical officers in by me. They said in a half hour or so I’d be at another place to get help or they would take care of me there. I told them to wait, I could stand it that long, but it was a few more hours before we got to Rottweil, Germany hospital. I got cleaned up there and the next morning the guard came early and motioned for me to put my shoes on. I thought perhaps I was going close by to get an x-ray, etc., so I only tucked my shoe laces in. Out in the hallway an orderly took my clothes out of a closet and threw them on the floor. The guard took the hanger from them and rolled them up for under my arm. I believe all the patients in this room were Polish and French. I was surprised the guard was taking a Frenchman along for the walk down to the train depot. Apparently the train was gone, so back we went. It was raining and wet snow covered the ground. Women and other civilians carrying umbrellas were turning around to see me in only underwear and the guard poking me in the back to hurry. Back in the hospital, I was advised to be dressed early the next morning, a guard would be there to pick me up and take me to another hospital.
The next morning the guard picked us up again and walked to the train depot and rode to an officer to get interrogated, but since I could not understand German or speak it, we continued on to Ulm, Germany hospital. The guard told me Ulm was a large town and they expected it to be bombed. Upon arrival at the Ulm hospital with a large fence around it, I was greeted by Americans who were prisoners. What a wonderful feeling to talk to someone after being a week without talking. Their questions were about war news and said I’d be treated good here. They get American Red Cross parcels; each one is divided between four guys and each guy gets five cigarettes a week. I replied, “You guys can have my cigarettes, cause I don’t smoke.” (Thanks to the Red Cross for helping keep us alive. We needed you.) The doctors who took care of me were P.O.W.s also. One English and one Sydney, Australian Capt. Kevin W. Priddis. They removed the shrapnel from my back. Different nights we lay in the dark hospital with the shades pulled and listened to the bombers flying over and could see flashes of light at the shades edge. After two months passed, I was discharged from the hospital to make room for new patients arriving. Some beds were set up in the halls.
After leaving the hospital, I was moved three times. One time we were being moved in a closed box car. The only light inside was a 4 inch by 48-inch place over head high in the end of the car. It was so crowded that half of us would sleep lying the same way and when one wanted to turn, about 50 would turn. We were locked in for four days. Some had dysentery bad and the only place to go was against the sliding door and when the Germans came with an armful of bread to feed us, they would slide the door back and throw the bread in all at once. When there would be an air raid on, the engine would be taken alone to hide it and the box cars left out in the open. Another time being moved in a passenger train (with civilians) parked a mile from town, this bright sunny day. The engine and cars were between two banks about as high as the train, when an American plane came in all of a sudden and strafed the engine with 50 calibers. We were in the car closest to the coal car. Some civilians laid down in the car and the rest of us scrambled to get out. Many people were ahead of me crossing the open pastures. The water poured from the engine through bullet holes. I could hardly get up the steep bank cause I was so weak and my knees would buckle backwards at times. People got back together and carried their luggage to town. The guard put the P.O.W.s in a lone train passenger car near the depot. The engine had been moved ahead to be camouflaged, but another lone box car came coasting down a track beside us and derailed after it got by us in the car and many other people standing there. Later at the stalag some P.O.W.s had dysentery so bad, were too weak to get off their bunk and died. The toilet was a long dirt trench with a pole, the proper height to sit on. All of us had lice, no change of clothes anytime and no place to take a bath. Some had to go on work detail repairing railroads which had been bombed. The drinking water was shut off in the daytime. Some fellows were in need of a smoke so they would find some bark and shave it off and roll it up to smoke, others may have a butt from an American Red Cross parcel to smoke during the night, by their self, they hoped. Soon 5 or 6 would be waiting in line for a drag, or a puff, “how about butts, can I have what you’re throwing away?” That was the usual sounds in dark hours of night. Our bedding was two very small blankets.
The last two weeks of April and the last of five months being a P.O.W. we were moved to a place under a large tent in the same area and we slept on gravel. We got rid of the lice, they either couldn’t stand it in the cold, or us. We also lost our freedom, were scared, wondering at times if we would make it, we prayed and wondered how our family was at home since the last letter was in November 1944 and about starved to death.
The greatest day of my life was 29th April 1945 when the 14th Armored Division drove tanks up to the Stalag fence and (our) American plane flew over, very low waving the white flag out his window. We didn’t have to use the zig zag deep trench in our yard for safety. Sailed home on Sea Robin from Le Havre, France.