1945: Darwin Gidel Returns From Nazi POW Camp

Tech Sgt. Darwin Gidel, who on March 24, 1944, was engineer on a B-17 bomber overtaken and shot down by Focke-Wulf 190 fighters on its return from a mission over Schweinfurt, Germany, is home on a 30-day leave from the General hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., to which he was assigned when he recently returned on the repatriation liner Gripsholm after nearly a year in German prison camps.

The ill-fated Fortress was already over Belgium on its return trip, when sent crashing to earth by teh rocket-firing German attack, and soon after he had bailed out of the downward spinning wreck, Sgt. Gidel was in a Brussels military hospital. There he spent three months recuperating from an injury which resulted in the loss of his right leg.

From Brussels, Gidel went first to a Frankfurt camp, then another not far from the first, and finally up to the "Friegesgefangenenlager" near Stargard, where he was when not long ago a combined Swiss-German board surveyed the camp for suitable prospects for repatriation. Because of his disability, Gidel was among those chosen.

Because of their previous good fortune to escape with whole bodies other Worthington and southwestern Minnesota boys who had been companions of Gidel in confinement in the Baltic prison pens had to remain behind. These included Lenny Johnson, Daniel Grunstead, Dale Smith and John Heidebrink that Gidel knew of when he left. Since returning he finds that Bob Bray was in the same camp. The two boys, however, were unaware of it.

Because of his confinement in the Stargard camp, Sgt. Gidel Monday manifested a keen interest in the day’s news of the Russian capture of that fortress, 19 miles from Stettin, whihc was 50 miles from the prison camp.

Stargard was the place where anyone in the prison requiring medical aid was taken, Gidel explained. He doubts that any of the Worthington area boys are left there now, presuming them to have been moved as the Soviets came closer.

German treatment of prisoners, as he found it, the sergeant describes as "not so bad." Their situation as prisoners depended to a certain extent upon their own comforts, for they had to "police" their own huts, hence could keep them as fit as they cared to.

Food and clothing came largely through the Red Cross, else there wasn’t much. Gidel pointed out that it was probably the best the Germans could do, as they had not too much for their own men, let alone enemy prisoners. Foods were mainly confined to those which could be eaten cold, if necessary, and Sgt. Gidel admits that there are certain well-known U.S. brands he will never care very much for again.

After being tagged by the investigating board for repatriation viat he exchange ship, the sergeant eventually was sent to Switzerland, thence to Marseille, where the Gripsholm waited. The departure for America was delayed while the state department combed the passenger list for nazi agents.

Before the job was done, about half of the alleged American repatriates had been taken to a concentration camp in North Africa. Fourteen days later, the Gripsholm docked at New York.

The repatriated German prisoner accompanied to Worthington Staff Sgt. and Mrs. Harold Gidel, who drove up to Battle Creek from the base in Indiana where they are stationed pending Sgt. Gidel’s departure overseas. They will have to return with the coming week end to Indiana. Harold Gidel, who had gone from the former Gidel home town of Rockwell City, Iowa, an Illinois position, has never lived in Worthington.

Sgt. Darwin Gidel returns with teh air medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Purple heart and three combat missions in the European theater of operations. He will have been three years in the army next June.

Sgt. Harold Gidel will close his fourth year in the armed forces in April.

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