LISTEN to this edition of Hometown Heroes
Thousands crowded onto the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on May 8, 2015 to mark the 70th Anniversary of V-E Day, watching as dozens of vintage World War II airplanes flew in a parade of symbolic formations, representing key moments from along the path to the eventual Allied victory. CLICK HERE for a thorough article about the event, complete with a gallery of photos and video.
Episode #366 of Hometown Heroes includes 70-year-old newsreel audio marking that historic day, and features the story of one of thousands of prisoners of war who may have died in captivity if America and its allies had not pressed on to victory. Most German POW camps were liberated in the month leading up to V-E Day, but had the Nazi regime prevailed, the future of those prisoners was uncertain at best.
One of those camps was Stalag IX-B in Bad Orb, Germany, where a young man named Glenn Schmidt spent most of his time in captivity. This edition of Hometown Heroes follows Glenn’s story from the time a 17-year-old high school senior in Reedley, CA found out that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Ten months later, Glenn enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a Link Trainer instructor before joining the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which allowed him to study engineering at Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL. After heavy losses in Europe presented the need for more infantry soldiers, the ASTP was disbanded, and Glenn was assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division.
Schmidt left behind a wife and newborn son as he headed overseas as a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) man with the 242nd Infantry Regiment. He landed in France December 8, 1944, and was taken by train to Strasbourg, France, where he experienced his first taste of combat. It was in that area a month later that Glenn experienced his closest call. At about 9 p.m. on January 8, 1945, Glenn and about 10 other American soldiers were crawling through the snow in the hopes of establishing a listening post when the Germans opened fire. “Bullets were flying all around us,” you’ll hear Schmidt remember. He watched the man in front of him killed instantly by enemy machine gun fire. When two Germans set up a machine gun on a bridge in the distance, Glenn used his BAR to take them out. More enemy soldiers took over the machine gun and set it on automatic, sending bullets in every direction. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out how Glenn had his helmet knocked off, leaving entry and exit holes in that headgear, and how he was eventually captured in a pillbox with no ammunition left.
You’ll also hear him explain why a letter from his father, quoting a particular verse of scripture (Psalm 91:7) had a significant impact on him, and how his time as a prisoner of war became more and more desperate by the day. When he walked into Stalag IX-B, a guard told him he would live for five to seven months on the amount of food he’d be given there. “Those weren’t very encouraging words,” Glenn remembers. “But it proved to be quite true.” Starvation, freezing conditions, and at times brutal treatment from their captors caused many of the prisoners to lose hope, but fellow P.O.W. Bill Paschal says Schmidt was a “lifesaver.” Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Paschal surprise Schmidt by calling into the show from Kansas, and explaining what Glenn did to boost the spirits of the other prisoners. April 2, 1945 would be a “day of liberation, and a day of elation,” Schmidt remembers. 145 pounds when he was captured, Glenn weighed just 92 pounds when he tasted freedom again, so weak he could barely walk.
You can read his P.O.W. diary here, and in 2013, Glenn teamed with two fellow prisoners to publish an account of their experiences. Captured in Hatten: a story of survival is available in paperback and e-book. The book’s front cover shows Glenn holding his World War II steel helmet, but he left that helmet behind in a German pillbox when he was captured in 1945. In 1962, while serving with the Air Force near Strasbourg, he took his two sons to the area where he had been captured 17 years earlier. Despite warnings around the long-abandoned bunkers, his sons went underground into the very pillbox where Glenn’s life had taken a dramatic turn. When they re-emerged, one was carrying a hand grenade, and the other had a steel helmet with two holes in it. You’ll hear Glenn explain how he knew the helmet was his, and share what the saying “freedom is not free” means to him. “I am deeply gratified for my God, and my country,” he concludes. Glenn, thank you for your service, and for sharing your incredible story with us.