LISTEN to Alan Dunbar on Hometown Heroes
96-year-old Alan Dunbar appears on episode #354 of Hometown Heroes, debuting February 14, 2015. Dunbar grew up in Pennsylvania, where he played baseball for West Philadelphia HS and often accompanied his father and two brothers to Shibe Park to watch Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, who won back-to-back World Series titles in 1929 and 1930. On teams that had tremendous hitters, like Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Mickey Cochrane, Dunbar says his favorite Athletic was pitching legend Lefty Grove, and you’ll him explain why on Hometown Heroes.
Dunbar graduated from Temple University in 1940, and after a brief stint working for Gulf Oil Company, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he completed Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. You’ll hear Dunbar’s recollections of a childhood journey to Japan, and the prescient warning issued by his father, a warning that would flash back to the front of Alan’s mind on December 7, 1941, when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Both of his brothers served in World War II, and before Alan headed overseas, he learned that his older brother, Joe, had been killed when his ship, PC-496, was sunk in the Mediterranean by an Italian submarine. Assigned to the 106th Infantry Division, Dunbar became communications officer for the 422nd Infantry Regiment. You’ll hear Dunbar explain what his duties were, and the measures he had to take to keep a gifted radio operator named Ernest Kinoy in his unit.
At the outset of the Battle of the Bulge, Dunbar and his platoon were surrounded by German forces, and he was wounded in the midsection before being captured. Two complete regiments, the 422nd and 423rd, representing a total of 6,000 men, were surrendered to German forces, and Dunbar was taken to Oflag 64, an all-officer camp in Szubin, Poland. It was there that he first met a man he believes would save his life, John K. Waters, who happened to be the son-in-law of General George S. Patton.
When advancing Russian forces approached Oflag 64, the prisoners were forced to march to Oflag XIII-B in Hammelburg, Germany. That journey took 48 days, and Dunbar doesn’t think he would have survived the march without the help of Waters. When Dunbar’s foot and leg became swollen and walking became difficult, Waters persuaded the German guards to put Dunbar on a wagon carrying sick and wounded. When the group would stop at night to sleep, Waters carried Dunbar to the barn to stay warm. Oflag XIII-B was the target of a controversial raid ordered by General Patton. Carried out by Task Force Baum, the failed raid resulted in the deaths of 26 soldiers.
As his time in captivity went on, Dunbar’s weight continued to dwindle, but he says the hunger wasn’t the worst part for him. “The hardest thing about being a POW, Dunbar explains, “is the lack of freedom.” Moved to a third prisoner of war camp, Stalag VII-A in Moosburg, Germany, Dunbar was liberated there on April 29, 1945. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear his detailed memories of that day, including what General George S. Patton had to say to the prisoners when he arrived in his jeep. “I never had any doubts,” Dunbar remembers, “that Americans would win the war.” Nine days after his liberation, Germany surrendered, and before long he was headed back to the United States. When the ship taking him home passed by the Statue of Liberty, Alan was overcome with emotion.
“A lot of people died for us to get home,” you’ll hear him say. “I thought about them, and I thought about my family.” Dunbar weighed just 102 pounds when he was liberated, and wasn’t much heavier when he greeted his parents in Philadelphia. “The only thing missing is your brother Joe,” he remembers his mother telling him. “He died a hero’s death.” Dunbar is thankful he made it home, and he expressed his thanks to the man he felt was his guardian angel in captivity, John Waters. He never did reconnect with Ernest Kinoy, who died in November, 2014 after a long career writing for television and for Broadway. Kinoy, too, had become a prisoner of war during the mass surrender of the 422nd and 423rd regiments. When his captors learned Kinoy was Jewish, they sent him to a slave labor camp at Berga. An injury from a fall actually helped save his life, and he went on to write an NBC drama about his ordeal, called Walk Down the Hill.
A post-war career as an adjudicator with the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles exposed Alan to countless other veterans who had contributed to the price of freedom. He’s determined to make it to his 100th birthday in 2018, and he has some words of wisdom for the rest of us. “Don’t ever forget our relationship to those who didn’t come home,” he cautions, “and remember our freedom. It’s hard bought.”