He was on his fourth mission over Germany in a B-17 bomber called “Sky Wolf” when his luck ran out. It was June 13, 1943, their target: the submarine pens at Wilhelmshaven, a major North Sea port.
Ed Dostie of Englewood, Fla. was a 19-year-old tech sergeant and upper turret gunner on a “Flying Fortresses.” They were part of a flight of 100 heavy bombers from the 306 Bomb Group flying out of England that morning to attack the German coast during World War II.
“We were one of the first six planes over the target when we were hit three times by flak,” the 79-year-old Holiday Estates III resident said. “Flak from a German 88 (anti-aircraft gun) knocked a big hole in our tail and cut our rudder cables.”
“We went into a spin at 24,000 feet. The pilot yelled, ‘Hit the silk!’ Ten of us went out the door,” the old bomber crewman said. “The co-pilot went out right ahead of me, but he was killed by flak on the way down. The bombardier was also killed when his chute didn’t open.
“I came down in a field. I could see German civilians running toward me,” Dostie said. “I hooked up with our tail gunner and we started running away, but they caught us.
“There were about 15 of them. They weren’t hostile. They were looking for our parachutes because they were made of silk. But they took anything else we had, too. They were scavengers,” he said.
Dostie and his buddy weren’t armed. In those days, aviators and crew weren’t given handguns because the military thought they would be less likely to be shot by the Germans if they had no weapons.
German soldiers arrived a short while later and took the two B-17 crewmen back to Bremen. By then the Germans had rounded up the other six members of the crew who were still alive.
They were put aboard cattle cars and shipped to Dulag Luft Prison in Frankfurt, where all U.S. Air Corps and Royal Air Force prisoners were processed. It was a 19th-century stone prison that looked the part.
“We were put in solitary confinement for three days while being interrogated. One time we would be interrogated by a Luftwaffe major and the next time it might be someone who said they were from the Red Cross,” Dostie said. “They knew a lot about us. They told me where our plane was parked back on our base in England. They asked me how many planes were in our bomber group and where I trained in the States.
“Even though they were persistent I told them nothing but my name, rank and serial number,” he said. “I didn’t give them any sass either because I was too afraid.”
A few days later he was transferred to Stalag 7-A near Mooseberg, Germany. It housed not only American prisoners but also French, English and Russians POWs. They stayed there until October 1943, when they were taken by cattle cars to Stalag 17-B near Krems, Austria. This was the POW camp made famous in the 1953 film “Stalag-17” starring William Holden, and later in the hit TV series, “Hogan’s Heroes.”
In comparison to other German prison camps, it was the most luxurious the Fuhrer had to offer WWII POWs. Run by the Luftwaffe, it held 4,000 U.S. Army Air Corps sergeants who had been members of B-17 and B-24 bomber crews.
He ran things
“Staff Sgt. Kenneth Kurtenbach was the American commander of the camp. Every six months we’d hold an election for camp leaders. He would always win. Everybody liked him,” Dostie recalled. “He could speak German, so he could barter with the Germans.”
Nobody at Stalag-17 worked except the guards. The Americans even created a 10,000-volume library from books sent to the camp by the Red Cross.
The prisoners also built an altar for Father Kane to say Mass. The Catholic priest from Iowa who was captured by the Germans in North Africa also helped provide services for Protestants and Jewish POWs.
“I read 177 books during the 18 months I was a prisoner at Stalag-17. I had a list of every one of these books, but I lost it,” he said. “I read a trilogy about Franklin Roosevelt. He was a rich guy and didn’t have to work, so he got into politics. I also read about Alexander Hamilton. He couldn’t become president because he was born in the West Indies.”
It was during Dostie’s stay in Stalag-17 that his buddy, Glenn Loveland, who had been the ball turret gunner on Sky Wolf, escaped. He had done it a couple of times before to steal food in town. The last time he really went “over the hill.”
“He was only 19, but he was an assertive kid. He escaped to Hungary and was captured by Hungarian partisans,” Dostie said.
During an American air raid, the partisans’ camp was hit and Loveland escaped again. He ran off to Yugoslavia and joined a guerrilla group that made raids on horseback against the Germans.
It was during this period an American plane flew behind the lines to pick up injured guerrillas and fly them out to Italy for medical treatment. Loveland got aboard the rescue plane and flew out with the injured.
“He ended up back in England giving talks to American soldiers about how to escape from a POW camp if taken prisoner,” Dostie said. “Loveland survived the war. I met him several times afterward.”
The morale at Stalag-17 was good, Dostie said. The Americans were considered arrogant by the rest of the prisoners in the camp.
The food wasn’t great, but it would keep a prisoner going if he was careful. It consisted of pumpernickel bread and dehydrated vegetable soup with maggots in it.
Dostie did his maggot routine when he encountered a new prisoner trying to eat his critter-infested soup.
“I told them to watch out for the maggots in their soup. Often times, that would cause a guy not to eat his soup. I’d grab it, pick out the maggots and eat the rest,” he recalled with a smile.
Red Cross parcels were a godsend. They would show up at the camp from time to time. There was enough in one box to feed a POW for a week. They contained a can of powdered milk, a can of margarine, a can of Spam and one of corn beef. There was a small box of cubed sugar and a jar of instant coffee. In addition, there were five to seven packs of cigarettes in each box along with some “D-Bars” — concentrated chocolate bars that could be broken into six sections.
Most of the time these individual Red Cross packages were split among several POWs. Often they didn’t reach their intended destination. They would be stolen by the Germans.
Getting the news
What was happening on the front was quickly known by all the prisoners in Stalag-17 because of their instant communication with the outside world. A POW had bribed one of the prison guards and gotten a radio that allowed him to tune into the BBC news broadcasts.
“A talker would come through our barracks every day and tell us, ‘Today on the western front, so and so happened. On the eastern front, this took place.’ When the Battle of the Bulge happened, we knew it right away. We thought, ‘Oh my God, we won’t get out of here until 1948.’ We had a song we sang that went, ‘out the gate in ’48.'”
Free at last
On April 8, 1944, eight groups of 500 POWs were marched out of the camp and onto the road heading west toward the American front. Their German guards were trying to stay out of the clutches of the Russians who were marching toward the “Fatherland” from the east.
After 10 days on the road in the drizzling rain, Dostie and his comrades knew the American forces were nearby. The POWs were living in the woods in Austria.
“We looked down on a village below us and could see white flags in almost every window. We knew the Germans were surrendering and the Americans were coming,” he said. “A German captain came to the woods where we were and told us the Americans would arrive the next day.
“It was the 88th Infantry Division of Patton’s 3rd Army that freed us,” Dostie said with a smile. “I went into town. The American Army had set up a kitchen. They were baking white bread. It was really good. It’s the thing I remember most. It was great!”
The POWs were flown out of Austria to France, 25 at a time, a few days later aboard DC-3 transport planes. They wound up in Le Havre along with 80,000 other soldiers, all trying to get back to the States. Because they had been POWs, they received preferential treatment.
“Eisenhower came to the camp and told us, ‘If you guys want to wait, we’ll send you back in a luxurious ocean liner. If you want to go home right away, you can go back in liberty ships,” Dostie said.
Dostie sailed home on a liberty ship. When his convoy steamed into New York Harbor and he saw the Statue of Liberty, there were fire boats shooting columns of water into the air. Whistles were blowing and bells were ringing.
A few days later he was given a 60-day recuperation leave. He headed home to Newmarket, N.H.
“When I stepped off the train in Dover, N.H., I was eight miles away from my front door. I walked through town in my U.S. Army Air Corps uniform carrying my bag. A bus pulled up beside me and opened its door.
“When I got off the bus I was a block from home. It was just up the hill.
“I said to the driver, ‘What do I owe you?’ He replied, ‘You don’t owe me a damn thing. Have a good life.'”
Airmen who gave their all on B-17 (#42-5218):
Pitts, Marc F ~ 2nd Lt, Bombardier, Delaware
Van Troyen, Joseph J ~ 2nd Lt, Co-Pilot, Canada
Airmen who became POW’s from B-17 #42-5218):
Marcotte, William H ~ 1st Lt, Pilot
Carvalho, Joseph M ~ 2nd Lt, Navigator
Dostie, Edward J ~ T/Sgt, Top Turret Gunner
Loveland, Glenn ~ S/Sgt, Ball Turret Gunner
Patten, Charles R ~ Capt, Waist Gunner
Huschle, Lawrennce S/Sgt, Waist Gunner
Mason, Earl S ~ S/Sgt, Tail Gunner
Houchens, Mason E ~ T/Sgt, Radio Operator
Note: S/Sgt Glenn Loveland managed to later escape and returned to service on August, 1944.
( Bio & Crew Report by: Russell S. “Russ” Pickett )
Death: Jun. 13, 1943
Son of Frank L. Van Troyen.
Joseph served as a 2nd Lieutenant and Co-Pilot on B-17 “Skywolf” (#42-5218), 423rd Bomber Squadron, 306th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
He resided in Canada prior to the war.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on October 24, 1940, prior to the war, at Chanute Field, Illinois. He was noted, at the time of his enlistment, as being employed as a Architect and also as Single, without dependents.
This B-17 was assigned to raid U-Boat installations near Bremen and Kiel, Germany during the war.
During this bombing raid Joseph, along with 2nd Lt. Marc F. Pitts, were both “Killed In Action” when they were hit by enemy flak. His B-17 eventually crashed and the rest of the 8 crew members successfully bailed out and became POW’s.
Joseph was awarded the Purple Heart.
Service # O-736423
Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial
Plot: H Row 1 Grave 25
Created by: Des Philippet
Record added: Feb 28, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 66263666
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, October 14, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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