Vet recalls war’s deprivation

Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Spencer Ambler, left, talks with John Mock, a former World War II prisoner of war.

The noon buffet at The New Greenery Monday was vastly different from what John Mock ate during 99 days as a prisoner of war in Germany in the waning months of World War II.
Mock, of Eureka, made the observation at the local National Association of Retired Federal Employees meeting.
“The worms just floated around on top of the soup the Germans gave us,” Mock said, allowing he and other POWs probably got a little protein from bugs and “an occasional mouse” ground with meal that was made into a dark, course bread.
He ate twice a day while a prisoner in Stalag 12A at Limburg, Germany.
“For breakfast we got a bowl of something that was kind of like Postum,” Mock said. “We also got a loaf of bread for six men. We’d cut it down the middle and then slice the halves into three pieces each.”
The second meal of the day came at about 4 p.m. and was the wormy soup.
At Mock’s Army induction in January 1944, he weighed 160 pounds. After 99 days of imprisonment, the six-foot-tall soldier weighed 105 pounds.
“I was so skinny that I could take my finger and thumb and put them around my upper arm,” he said.

MOCK TOOK basic training in Texas, where he learned communications skills, and by fall was on a four-stack ocean liner zig-zagging its way to England. The ship was faster on the surface than a German U-boat under water, which Mock and his mates were told prevented it from being torpedoed halfway across the Atlantic when it out-ran a German submarine.
By late November he was in Europe and in the Belgium-Luxembourg area when the Battle of the Bulge started in mid-December.
Mock recalled Germany’s last major offensive began after two nights of German soldiers revving up tank engines and broadcasting the sound over a loud speaker that made nighttime eerie for American troops.
“The third night, here they came,” he said. “We were in some trees and pulled out before the shelling started,” Mock said. “Afterwards the trees were nothing but toothpicks.”
Mock’s outfit moved to where an American 105 mm howitzer was set up. They dug foxholes nearby and watched the big U.S. artillery destroy two German tanks one time and a heavy truck at the head of a convoy made up mostly of horse-drawn wagons another.
During a German barrage, a shell hit close to Mock’s foxhole just as he had retreated part way into it. Shrapnel tore into the boot on one foot and caused an injury that nagged him for weeks and eventually was treated by German medics.
A few days later, with the Germans advancing, Mock’s unit was caught in the open and several were killed and wounded, including his lieutenant, who was “cut in two.”
“Me and another guy started to crawl away in the snow,” but the sounds of agony from comrades was too much. They returned and soon were captured.
Thus began Mock’s 99-day ordeal as a POW.
“The Germans moved us around a lot,” he said.
He told about carrying other prisoners too weak or injured to walk and how on a train with German civilians, one civilian became angry with the prisoners and had to be kept at bay by a guard.
He arrived at Stalag 12A in mid-January, about a month after his capture, and was there until March 21, when he boarded another train that carried him to liberation a week later.
“We were strafed by a P-47 and P-38, but they hit just the engine,” leaving the prisoners, 50 each in boxcars 21 feet long by 8 feet wide, uninjured. “There wasn’t enough room to lie down. We had a row all along the outside sitting with their backs to the walls and another row down the middle, back to back.”
They were locked in the boxcars three days without food or water and only a bucket for a latrine.
When doors finally were unlocked, they found the German guards gone and “POW” written in big letters on the tops of the boxcars, which was spotted by a Piper Cub doing surveillance for the 99th Infantry Division.
“When we got out, me and another guy got a can of peas and carrots. I could barely eat half of it.”

AFTER being freed, Mock went to a hospital in France, where he was given a bucket of warm water and soap for his first bath in months, a razor and a clean pair of pajamas.
“I got a coffee cup full of sliced peaches at the hospital,” he said. “That tasted so good.”
Mock was transferred to Paris and then to the U.S. by way of the Azores, where a woman opened her restaurant in the middle of the night to feed the American POWs for free. His last days with the Army were at Winter General Hospital in Topeka.
After his discharge, Mock spent his working life in oil fields in west Texas and 19 years overseas. He and wife Mary Ellen retired to Eureka, his birthplace, in 1984.

AS PART of NARFE’s regular business meeting, Alfred Link talked about new legislation that allows federal agencies to re-employ federal employees for a limited amount of part-time work without offset of annuity.
Nineteen members attended Monday’s meeting at The New Greenery. The Chanute and Fort Scott chapters have been invited to attend the next meeting, which will be at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 7 at the New Greenery. The program subject will be health insurance open season and its provisions for federal retirees. Collection of canned goods for the Iola Community Pantry will be the Christmas project.