My father passed away 2 years ago today and today I just wanted to post a few things in his memory. Our local newspaper ran a story on him in 2006 so I have posted that.I also want to post a picture of the "A Wartime log" which I now have~
My father also made a very detailed map that I think is just beautiful, he put so much work in to it~
Also my favorite poem that my father wrote while in the prison camp ~
Five slat bed~
Each night before I go to bed,
I fix a pillow for my head.
Now I lay my blankets neat,
On which I hope to get some sleep.
I lay down easy on my sack
Those slats aren't right to fit my back
So up out of bed, I slowly go,
To move those slats both to and fro,
I get back in and with a sigh
My head is low and my feet are high
So up out of bed again I go
To move those slates both to and fro
This time I'm madder than before
So I grab my sack and sleep on the floor
June 22nd, 1944
William Graser November 7, 1923 ~ March 11, 2007
By MERRILL BALASSONE
BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: June 14, 2006, 03:44:52 AM PDT
Retired Sgt. William Graser sat and watched from his north Modesto home as the news media made Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch an instant celebrity.
A month later, there were still parades, a book deal and numerous talk show appearances. Lynch, then 19, was rescued after being captured by Iraqi forces in March 2003. Hers was the first rescue of a U.S. prisoner of war from behind enemy lines since World War II. After nine days in captivity, Lynch was a war hero.
"The whole world stood still," said Graser, 82.
Graser couldn't help but compare Lynch's homecoming to the day he arrived in New York harbor after being liberated from German prison camps during World War II.
After 459 days in captivity, Graser and about 10,000 other former POWs were greeted with doughnuts and coffee. Graser hopped on a train alone back to Solway, Minn., wearing pieces of French and English military uniforms.
When he arrived home, Graser remembers his mother and sisters sitting around the table in shocked silence with hardly a word spoken. All his mother could do was show him the small newspaper clipping announcing his death.
Graser was a flight engineer with the 100th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces, nicknamed "the Bloody Hundredth" because it had the highest casualty record in the 8th Air Force. Graser was part of the first daylight raids over Berlin, Germany, on March 4, 1944. One plane was lost on that mission, and the group received a presidential citation.
Two days later, Graser returned to Berlin as part of a mission of 660 B-17 bombers, in what was called "the most intense air battle of the war." In that battle, the 100th lost 15 planes, their greatest loss of the war.
Twelve days later, on March 18, 1944, Graser's plane was shot down as he returned from a 14-hour mission to Augsburg, Austria.
Prisoners marched 500 miles
On a recent afternoon in his north Modesto home, Graser sat at his kitchen table carefully turning the pages of his hardback diary, titled "A Wartime Log." In it are written the names and addresses of fellow captives and poetry, both dark and humorous, written in neat script. On one page are two German stamps bearing the image of Adolph Hitler. Graser carried the journal with him every day of his captivity.
Graser was most fearful during his last 31 days as a captive,when he and fellow prisoners were forced to run as Russian and English troops edged closer.
The prisoners took a five-day boat journey through the Baltic Sea, so packed in the hull that they slept standing up. The hatches were open to let in the rain and snow, with standing water climbing up to their necks. When they were let off the boat, legs shaking from exhaustion, Graser was forced to run for miles while handcuffed to two other men.
Then came the 500-mile march. Graser and his fellow captives marched from the Baltic Sea nearly to Austria, where they would be liberated, never stopping for long as the front edged closer.
The men had nothing to eat and slept on bales of hay in the countryside as they marched from Nuremburg to Munich then finally to Moosburg. Families nearby would offer them sandwiches as they marched. Smoke still billowed from the death camps as they went by, the putrid stench of bodies burning in the crematoriums filling the air.
On June 7, 1945, Graser was liberated by Gen. George S. Patton at a camp in Moosburg.
After the men were acclimated to eating small amounts of solid food, Graser was packed with thousands of other former captives on a ship bound for New York. The men were kept in the harbor overnight before they were allowed to disembark. That night, they watched the moonlight shine off the Statue of Liberty.
"All of us big guys were crying and blubbering," Graser said. "I think we raised the ocean two inches."
He took flying lessons early on
Graser was born in Chicago in 1923, one of six children. His family moved between Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, where his father worked as a rancher and rural mail carrier. Graser first developed a yearning to fly living on his family's 120-acre farm in Solway, Minn., population 98.
After finishing his daily chores, Graser would meet with a flight instructor at the local airport. He filled planes with fuel in exchange for flight lessons.
When he was 19, Graser decided to enlist in the Army Air Forces. He told his brother to pass the news on to their mother before going downtown to the recruiter.
As he walked down the steps of his high school to join the service, a girl called out to him: "If you don't get killed, I want a date."
Her name was Eunice. They have been married 57 years.
Graser's greatest tragedies in life weren't in the German prison camps. Four years ago, his son Earl was hit head-on by a drunken driver on Highway 4 in northern Stanislaus County after visiting his father that morning. He died from his injuries.
In 1992, Graser also fought cancer. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and given six months to live. A year later, he was declared cancer free.
Graser has spent years trying to earn recognition in the form of a Prisoner of War Medal, which was first issued in 1985. Graser said he has sent three letters to the Veterans Affairs headquarters in St. Louis, only to be told he needs more documentation to prove his status as a prisoner of war.
"I've seen just about everyone but the president," he said. "It's just a little pin, but it's the idea that I got one."
Recognition has been elusive
About five years ago, Graser told the full story of his ordeal in public for the first time, in front of his grandson's elementary school class in Ripon. He said for so many years, he felt guilty being a prisoner, for being captured when so many died.
"I lost a lot of buddies," Graser said. "I thought I must be a coward because I was shot down and was a prisoner of war."
For Graser, there are still profound psychological effects that linger. He is too shellshocked to attend Fourth of July fireworks celebrations. The loud pops of the fireworks — too much like an exploding grenade or a shower of bullets — trigger a self-protective instinct. Eunice Graser said her husband had once hidden under the bed to protect himself from the sounds of neighborhood fireworks.
"Us prisoners, all of us, we came home and there was no such thing as a welcome," Graser said. "We're just as wounded now as we were 60years ago."
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at 578-2337 or email@example.com.