The Maino Project: POW over Christmas
Photo: Video by nbc26.com
MENOMINEE, MI --John Maino brings us the story of a 90-year-old World War II veteran who recalls the worst Christmas of his life, one spent as a prisoner of war.
Christmas of 1944: a festive time for some here in the states, a horrific time for American soldiers in Europe. It was The Battle of the Bulge, where over 19,000 were killed, 23,000 were captured or missing. One of those was 21-year-old Don Ebsch of Menominee, Michigan, who documented his journey from the battlefield to prisoner of war.
It was Christmas eve 1944. The POW train car had no bathroom facilities, the temperature was below zero, there was no heat, minimal food, frostbite, sickness. Ebsch sat in the corner and rubbed his feet, he didn't want to lose them.
One of his stops, a freezing, lice filled warehouse.
"I had burlap pants, they took my army clothing, which was good, and I had burlap, you know what burlap is? Colder than heck," said Ebsch.
The final stop was at a POW camp in Kamenz, Czechoslovakia. They arrived on Christmas day.
"We would spend our time talking about what our mother made for us that Christmas, we would! You know, we talked about food," said Ebsch.
That was their menu that day and everyday for the next 5 months.
"A piece of black bread, round loaf like a rye loaf of bread and then a bowl of soup.," recalls Ebsch.
Maino asked, "Was it good soup?"
"There was no meat! I mean a horses head with teeth floating around in there okay!?," said Ebsch.
But it had to sustain them for their job as slave laborers in the mine, carved into the side of a mountain.
"We must have walked six or seven miles up there into the mountains, and we worked 10 hours days, 6 days a week and we were given Sunday off," said Ebsch.
It wasn't until spring of 1945 that his parents were notified that he was alive. Don is certain, had liberation not come when it did in May, he would not have made it home.
"What did you weigh when you came out of the camp?" asked Maino.
"91," Ebsch replied. He weighed 150 when he went in.
"It's unbelievable that I'm here... right?!" said Ebsch.