(In living our daily lives, we often forget the people who sacrificed their lives to give us the freedom to live ours as we desire. Conneaut has a rich patriotic tradition from people on the home front as well as those fighting wars in distant places. We will feature a few of their stories from their respective wars. If you have a veteran you would like to be featured or are a veteran with story to tell, contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Photo by Holly Mindrup
Ageless, endless, Partner of war,
Dangling life and death – cold metal core,
Number and letters etched and aloof,
Until someone reads them for person proof!
Robert Goldsmith Recalls Days of Being POW
Wednesday, May 27, 1998
Sincerely Marge by Marge Tuttle (Gazette)
Although much time has gone by since the ending of World War II, the memories from that terrible era still remain in our minds. In this war, any men from our town and the surrounding area were involved and remember the experiences they will never forget. Three very well- known fellows from our town spent much time in German prison camps, and they remember well the hardships they endured while they were there. They are Jack Sanford, who was at one time Conneaut Police Chief; Charles (Chuck) Marcy, a former Conneaut businessman; and Robert Goldsmith, who is well known by either Bob or Goldie. He is now retired and owns and operates his antique shop on West Main Road.
At this time I would heartily like to say “thank you” to Bob Goldsmith for his utmost cooperation with me on the writing of the following true story!
When Bob joined the Armed Forces he was sent to various training camps. Upon bis request, he was trained as a ball turret gunner. This meant his position would be in the under belly of the B17 Flying Fortress.
His training took place at various locations before he was scheduled to go overseas by way of a six day cruise on the Queen Mary.
In 1943, Bob landed in Scotland, then was sent for training near London, where he joined a part of the 8th Air Force, and received training over and around England’s countryside.
On his first mission over Germany, his faulty oxygen mask caused him so much trouble he was hospitalized for two weeks. In February 1944, Bob was once more in action with his plane and crew and given the target of an assembly plant in western Poland. This mission was not successful due to weather conditions (cloud cover) so was ordered to make a return trip two days later. On this trip they endured severe enemy bombing, badly damaging their B17. When the engines burst into flames, they knew that jumping was all that was left to do.
At this point, he disconnected all of his equipment and made his way into the body of the plane. He was all set to be first to jump when he discovered a faulty buckle on his suit and motioned to drop back to the fellow behind him. When it came his turn, he noticed the gigantic hole in their wing, the result of an enemy 20MM cannon round that hit them.
As Bob floated down on his first parachute mission, he was glad to see land instead of water as he had no idea where he was or what was coming up next. As he landed in a treetop, he saw a German guard with a gun in hand, pointed at him. Then there were more with guns and vicious dogs with looks on their faces that were anything but kind. When the rest of the crew was rounded up, they were taken inside for interrogation. However, the pilot was missing. He was said to have been shot to death as he tried to escape into a nearby woods.
The next move was a train ride to Southern Germany, and due to a schedule mix up, the whole crew was put into a local jail and in solitary confinement with rats for company. The prisoners were moved many times, each with another method of travel, from train compartments to being herded into boxcars. Conditions in these boxcars were terrible and lasted five to six days. During that time, there was the threat of our bombers all around which mounted their fear of being blown up by their own allies.
From this horrible journey, they were again put in solitary confinement.
When they finally reached the last POW camp, they joined many from other countries and began to receive Red Cross packages, which had some warm clothing, cigarettes, Spam, candy, and powdered milk. These, along with the POW diet of dried cabbage, turnips, a few potatoes, and horse meat soup was all they had to eat. Many lost a lot of weight.
Some of the fellows at this camp put together a makeshift radio from parts they bribed from the guards in exchange for American cigarettes, which were obtained from the Red Cross packages. With this they could get a bit of war news now and then.
As the Russians came closer, Bob’s camp was moved into the hold of an abandoned Japanese freighter. This was an awful experience as they all wee herded into the hold, packed together with the fear of being blown up.
Next, they were again packed into boxcars and sent to a camp near Berlin. Here, they were chained together in pairs and forced to march in the extreme cold for a long distance with German youth guards in command under the orders of a captain who was full of hate for them. He enjoyed such treatment as jabbing the buttocks and legs of the stragglers. They all feared the vicious unmuzzled dogs, as they knew if they fell behind it might mean death. Bob had a hard time as he also had to help his partner who had extremely sore feet. Here, rations were drastically reduced, and no mail came through from home.
At this camp, the Gestapo was in charge and would do all sorts of nasty things. One would be to hold inspection any time or night or day. They would tear everything to bits while the prisoners stood out in the cold. They then turned the lights out at night so they couldn’t see to put them back together.
Their next move was to a new camp where Bob joined some of his commanding officers. Here, food was rationed even more as the Germans faced the fact that they were losing the war. A loaf of bread had to be split seven ways, and a fellow was lucky if he got any at all. Here, no Red Cross packages were received.
In April of 1945, when the Russians liberated their camp, it meant any changes for all of the men there. The drunken and trigger happy Russians made our boys uncomfortable, and even though they enjoyed viewing the countryside around them, they returned to the camp each night.
Each day they awaited the sight of our B17s to fly in after them, and what a sight is was when they did and then flew them to an airfield in France. Here, they boarded an old Liberty Ship for an 11 day trip home.
What a wonderful feeling it was for Bob Goldsmith to see that sign “Conneaut, Ohio” and pick up life again as he wanted to live it.
(His obituary in the Ashtabula Star Beacon says that after the war Bob Goldsmith went the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and In the 50’s actively painted local water color scenes. In the 70’s he started an antique shop in his father’s former Shell Gas Station on Rt. 20 in Conneaut. He retired from Union Carbide on June 30, 1981 after 25 years of service. He died Thursday, October 26, 2017, and he is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Conneaut.)