Thomas (Tom) STAFFORD was born in Washington, DC (June 1923) and raised in Petersburg, VA (Colonial Heights) where he lived during all of his early years. Tom was drafted (March 1943) out of college (Virginia Polytechnic Institute) into the Army during World War II.
Assigned to the 6th Combat Engineer Special Assault Brigade upon arrival (January 1944) in England, he was promoted to Corporal and participated in the invasion of France during the early stages of the assault on OMAHA Beach (D-Day, June 6, 1944). He continued serving with the Brigade through the Normandy and Northern France Campaigns. Transferring (December 1944) to Company L, an Infantry Rifle Company in the 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, he was soon promoted to Platoon Sergeant, Second Rifle Platoon and, after replacing his Platoon Commander (who was wounded) continued to lead the Second Platoon during the Battle of the Bulge; the assault on the Siegfried Line; the assault crossing of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers; the Central European campaign and into Czechoslovakia, where he received a battlefield Commission (2nd Lt.) shortly after the surrender by the German forces on May 8, 1945.
Immediately upon the war's end in Europe, Tom accompanied the 87th Infantry Division upon its return (July 1945) to the States. The Division, having been selected to participate in the invasion of the Japanese Island of Honshu, was preparing to move to California for shipment to Japan when President Truman ordered the use of atomic bombs to persuade the Japanese also to surrender.
Having received five battlefield promotions during combat, (Corporal to 2nd Lt.), Tom decided to remain in the Army after the war finally ended. Selected to serve as Aide-de-camp to General Phillip Gallagher, Commanding General (CG), 25th Infantry Combat Team at Ft. Benning, GA (1946), Tom later accompanied the General to the Philippine Islands where General Gallagher became CG of the 14th Philippine Scout Division. Tom then accompanied Gen. Gallagher back to Germany (1947) as his Aide-de-camp when the General became Deputy CG of the US Constabulary; Director of all US Army Military Posts in USAREUR and later CG of the Berlin Airlift Command during the "Cold War."
Upon his promotion to Captain, Tom was given (1950) command of a 1st Infantry Division Rifle Company assigned the mission of securing the German-Czechoslovakia border prior to returning to the States (1951). He then served two tours of duty in Korea: first tour, (1953-1954) as Headquarters Company Commander of the 7th Infantry Div. and later as Civil Affairs Officer of the 25th Infantry Div.; second tour, (1960 - 1961) as Budget Officer for the Eighth US Army following his promotion to Major. Between his two tours in Korea, Tom was stationed in Hawaii (1954-1957) with the 25th Infantry Division upon its withdrawal from Korea in 1954.
Returning to the States (1961) after his second tour in Korea, Tom was assigned to the Office of the Comptroller, Military District of Washington. He retired from active military duty (Major) with a medical disability in 1963 but continued to serve as a Dept. of Defense civilian employee (Comptroller, GS-15) until he retired again in 1987, having completed 43 years of Federal service.
During his active military service, Tom received a total of twenty-four decorations and medals, including The Combat Infantry Badge; The Silver Star with one OLC; The Bronze Star with Letter V device and one OLC; The Army Commendation Medal with one OLC; The Presidential Unit Citation (D-Day); The French Croix de Guerre with Palm (D-Day); the French Fourragere(D-Day) plus five campaign stars and D-Day invasion arrowhead. He also was awarded the Army Civilian Meritorious Service Medal.
East Meets West - The Movement Toward Czechoslovakia
Immediately following the capture of Plauen, the 347th Infantry Regiment shoved off again. This time our objective was to reach the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia, approximately 15 to 20 miles away. On April 17, the 1st Battalion captured Oelsnitz, apparently with little opposition, while the 2nd Battalion moved into Ober Losa, and the 3rd Battalion cleared the small city of Theuma, cutting the Autobahn (a super military highway) between Theuma and Ober Losa. Although the border of Czechoslovakia now was well within range of our division’s artillery, we were told that Major General Culin, our Division Commander, had been ordered by higher headquarters to stop our advance shortly after we captured Plauen. Rumors began to circulate that we were to remain in place to await the coming of Russian forces which had been reported to be approximately twenty-five kilometers eastward of our positions. After driving across Germany to the Czechoslovakian border, usually as the left flank division of General George S. Patton's Third Army, our corps (The US VIII Corps) was transferred to the First Army on April 22, 1945. We were ordered to remain in defensive positions on the First Army's right flank; continue patrolling along our front adjacent to the Third Army (on our right) while waiting for contact by the Russians.
During the next two weeks, having captured a number of towns and villages seven or eight miles east of Oelsnitz and Theuma, including Bergen, Steinigt, Lottengrun, Tirpersdorf, Werda, Arnoldsgrun, and Marieney, the 347th Infantry established and held a front line which ran generally from Falkenstein and Poppengrun on its left flank through the villages of Werda and Schoneck to Wohlbach on its right. While holding this line, nightly patrols were conducted and scattered contact with the enemy to our front continued. During this time period we received considerable incoming rifle and machine gun fire, plus occasional artillery shelling on a daily basis to let us know there were German units in front of us who still were willing to fight. Just south of our lines a group of saboteurs with a load of demolitions was captured by 347th Infantry combat patrols, while several men from our 2nd Battalion were ambushed and captured, in turn, by the Germans. We heard numerous rumors that Germany was on the verge of surrender, but none of those tales proved to be true.
While marking time, waiting for the Russians who were slowly approaching our lines from the East, we were told by Capt. Kidd, our Company Commander, that higher headquarters wanted several men from each company to take a jeep and visit a recently liberated German concentration camp at Buchenwald -- a small village located near Weimar about 70 miles behind our lines -- to bear witness to the unspeakable atrocities which had been found there. Lew Goad and I volunteered to visit Buchenwald and, upon our arrival, will never forget what we saw. Etched forever in my memory were piles of dead bodies, at least 10 to 15 feet high, stacked on the ground in several places. Many more corpses had been loaded in open rail cars, apparently waiting to be moved to the crematory ovens or away from the camp. I remember seeing a number of German civilians inside the camp who had been ordered to go from their homes in Weimar and nearby villages to also bear witness to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
One of the horrors that Lew and I remember seeing was a small shack located near the crematory ovens, which contained a number of cans with numbers stamped on their lids. We were told that the cans contained the ashes of cremated inmates which could be purchased for a fee by their families. I assume this offer applied only to the families of non-Jewish political prisoners because I am certain no Jewish family member, who might have been hiding somewhere within reach of the Gestapo, would have made their presence known by responding to such offer. I also recall seeing a number of former prisoners milling around inside the camp, so I believe our visit to the camp must have occurred shortly after its liberation.
In fact, I learned later that Buchenwald actually had been discovered on or about April 11, 1945 by a motorized patrol consisting of Capt. Frederick Keffer and three enlisted men from Task Force 9 of 6th Armored Division, while the 87th Infantry Division, having captured Bad Blankenburg to the south, was moving rapidly towards Saalfeld and Plauen. I also learned that shortly after Buchenwald was discovered, a detachment of soldiers and medical personnel from the 87th Infantry Division were sent to the camp to help in providing emergency care and evacuation of the camp’s survivors, most of whom were near death or in extremely poor condition.
Although higher headquarters understood that, having captured Plauen we and other allied forces had advanced far beyond the point agreed to by the Allies and the Russians, many of us at the battalion and company level were hoping we would continue to remain in our present positions and wait for the Russians to reach our lines. In fact, during this period, several officers and enlisted men in the 3rd Battalion, including Lt. Isidore Vallorani, had been given “rest and recuperation passes” to visit Paris, France. Vallorani, who had led the 3rd Platoon, Company L from the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, took over as our Company Executive Officer, thereby becoming second in command of Company L shortly before we entered Plauen.
On the night of May 5, however, we received word that we would wait no longer -- the 347th Infantry Regiment was ordered to attack the next morning, May 6 at 0700 hours, to be followed by the 346th Infantry which was ordered to attack at 0800. The 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry was given the objective of capturing Klingenthal, approximately six miles to the east, while the 3rd Battalion, 347th was given the objective of capturing Tannenbergsthal and Jägersgrün, approximately five miles from our present locations, and close to the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Moving out, with Company I headed for its objective of Tannenbergsthal and Company L headed for Jägersgrün, both companies encountered a number of roadblocks (abatis), sometimes only 100 or 200 yards apart for the first mile or so after jumping off enroute to their objectives. These roadblocks consisted of many trees blown down across the narrow roads passing through heavily forested areas. The enemy apparently had erected them when we were forced to hold up, shortly after we had captured Oelsnitz and Theuma. Resistance, however, by the retreating German forces was light, and was soon overcome or bypassed, resulting in the capture of a number of German soldiers.
As Company L approached the outskirts of Jägersgrün, with my platoon (the 2nd) and the 3rd platoon under T/SGT James Scruggs leading the way, Capt. Kidd radioed me saying that a German unit, possibly platoon-size or larger, had been observed in the middle of that village by one of our artillery spotter aircraft. The Germans appeared to be in the process of setting up demolition charges to destroy a bridge that spanned a small river parallel to the railroad tracks that divided that little village. Capt. Kidd ordered me to coordinate with T/Sgt Scruggs, and move our platoons as quickly as possible into Jägersgrün, to prevent the Germans from destroying the bridge. T/Sgt Scruggs had became “acting platoon leader” of the 3rd Platoon after Lt. Vallorani moved up to become our Company Executive Officer.
Setting up a skirmish line and firing as we entered Jägersgrün, the German defenders quickly scattered, thereby permitting the 2nd Platoon to cross over the bridge and allow me an attempt to neutralize the demolition charges that had been placed under the bridge. Hoping that I could do so before the charges could be ignited, my prayers were answered and the bridge was secured. Then, moving quickly through to the far side of the village after the bridge was secured, the 2nd and 3rd Platoons set up perimeter defensive positions as the remainder of Company L moved into Jägersgrün to await further orders.
During this action we captured approximately 25 to 30 German soldiers, including a German Colonel, and what I thought to be several female soldiers who were hiding with him in one of the houses in the village. I was told later the females actually were part of a German entertainment group similar to our USO troupes. The colonel, who spoke fairly good English, apparently had changed into civilian clothing as we were moving into Jägersgrün, because I found his uniform hidden under a bed. After I told him he could be shot on the spot as a spy for masquerading as a civilian, he claimed to be a staff officer assigned to a division headquarters, the command post (CP) of which he said was located 4 or 5 miles deeper inside Czechoslovakia. He told me he believed his division commander was convinced time was running out for the German forces and would prefer to surrender to the Americans rather than to the Russians, who he had heard were nearing Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. I suggested to the colonel that he contact his division commander and advise him that the members of his division certainly would be far better off if he surrendered to the Americans, rather than be captured and imprisoned by the Russians. The colonel said he had no radio or wire contact with the Division Commander and asked if I would be willing, under a flag of truce, to accompany him through the German lines to locate a German front line unit, which was in contact with division headquarters.
I then made two very stupid mistakes. First, after having survived five campaigns, and foolishly believing by then that “the Germans didn't have a bullet with my name on it”, I agreed to go with the Colonel. Second, I did not personally inform Capt. Kidd of my intentions and obtain his permission to venture behind enemy lines. I told S/Sgt Howard L. Crawford and Eldridge “Frenchy” LeBlanc (my platoon messenger) what I hoped to accomplish, and to inform Capt. Kidd if I was not back in an hour or two. I then hung part of a white sheet over the front of my jeep. Placing the colonel in the front seat, I sat behind him (with my pistol stuck between his shoulder blades) and instructed Jones, my driver, to follow the Colonel's directions.
What transpired then, and for the next six or seven hours, was like watching one of the prewar "slap stick" movies. Moving slowly southeast of Jägersgrün on a forest road leading towards Carlsfeld (located about 6 miles east of Jägersgrün and close to the Czechoslovakia border), we luckily passed without trouble through the first German outposts. The Wehrmacht soldiers, with their weapons ready, eyed us like visitors from outer space. Although the German Army units had been steadily retreating as we pushed them eastward towards Czechoslovakia, I do not recall observing any confusion in their ranks as we drove deeper behind the German lines. The German units that we observed appeared to be well organized and ready to defend their positions until compelled again to continue their retreat. One clear memory, however, still stands out in my mind. I remember seeing a German soldier walking along, a mile or two further down the road, carrying a huge armload full of bread to a field kitchen that had been set up near the road. Turning around and seeing us as we approached, he dropped the entire load of bread as, wild eyed, he frantically attempted to un-shoulder his rifle. Thankfully, the Colonel screamed something at him in German, which settled him down. A few minutes later we were met by a German officer, who obviously had been alerted of our approach by the first outposts we had encountered.
After a short conversation in German, the Colonel arranged for a German motorcycle escort to precede us to his division's headquarters. I estimated the headquarters to be 3 or 4 miles inside Czechoslovakia near the towns of Prebuz and Rudne, and approximately 12 miles from Jägersgrün. Upon arriving, the Division Commander, whose name I do not recall, was informed by the Colonel that I was there to accept his surrender. The Commander told me, in excellent English, that although he knew there was little hope left for Germany, and as much as he would like to save his troops from further harm, he could not willingly surrender his division unless ordered to do so by his Corps Commander.
I suggested to him that he contact his Corps Commander and advise him that he, too, would be far better off if he surrendered his entire command to the Americans, rather than waiting for his troops to be captured by the Russians. I told him if his Corps Commander wasn't ready to surrender, then I expected him, the Division Commander, to provide safe passage for my driver and me back to Jägersgrün and the American lines, since we had come under a flag of truce. Before agreeing to contact his Corps Commander, the General asked me why the American forces had stopped their advance after having driven the German Army almost into Czechoslovakia. I told him I had no knowledge of why we had stopped, but he could rest assured that we were moving again and this time we wouldn't stop until we were eyeball-to-eyeball with Russians. Apparently that was all that was needed to convince him to contact his commander.
What seemed to me to be an eternity, but was probably less than an hour -- while the Division Commander, the German Colonel, Jones and I sat casually drinking wine on the verandah of a beautiful home which was the division headquarters -- the Division Commander received word that the Corps Commander wanted to see me at his headquarters.. During our wait I learned that in the German Army a brigade-sized unit was commanded by a "Generalmajor" (major general), a division was commanded by a "Generalleutnant" (lieutenant general), and a corps was commanded by a "General der Infanterie or Panzertruppe, Artillerie,etc." (full general).
So, off we went again -- this time escorted by a number of Wehrmacht motorcycle troopers, sirens wailing, leading the way and traveling even deeper behind enemy lines in Czechoslovakia. Arriving at the Corps Headquarters, which was located in a large building on the outskirts of Karlsbad (now named Karlovy Vara), I was escorted into the Corps Commander's office. Speaking English, he immediately asked what my rank was. I, like all front line American infantrymen, was not wearing any insignia of rank. Combat infantrymen quickly learned that non-commissioned and commissioned officers were “targets of choice” for German snipers. I certainly wasn't about to tell him that his surrender was being demanded by a Technical Sergeant wearing muddy and dirty clothing -- so I told him I was a Captain, commander of an infantry rifle company. He looked me over, commenting that the American Army also must be running out of officer materiel if it, like the German Wehrmacht, was forced to fill its officer ranks with youngsters barely out of high school. Although I had not yet reached my 22nd birthday, I told the General that I was 24 and had been fighting the Wehrmacht since June 6, 1944, having participated in the Normandy invasion on Omaha Beach (the latter part being the truth). He then told me that he had been a German officer for more than 30 years, and would not surrender unless ordered to do so by his higher command.
Fearing that my venture behind the German lines was about to end in failure, I told the Corps Commander what I had earlier said to his division commander -- that my division and the rest of the American Army was moving again and this time we wouldn't stop until we were eyeball-to-eyeball with Russians. Knowing absolutely nothing of the rules of war, the Geneva Convention or anything else having to do with surrender formalities, I told him that if he formally surrendered to the American forces, the Russians would have to honor that formal surrender document. Although I knew only a few German words, hardly appropriate for the moment, several of his staff officers, appearing anxious to convince him to surrender, apparently offered their opinion (in German) to the General that my statements were correct. The General told me to wait outside his office while he discussed the situation with his staff.
My driver, Jones, and I sat in the hallway just outside of the general's office for what seemed like another eternity, hearing what sounded like a heated debate between the General and his staff. While waiting for the General to make up his mind, Jones and I watched with growing uneasiness while numerous staff personnel and dispatch messengers ran hurriedly up and down the halls, eyeing us warily as they entered or exited their offices. While I understood from the beginning that our venture deep behind enemy lines would not be a "cake walk," I began to realize that the situation in which I had placed Jones and myself was growing more serious with each passing minute, possibly ending with deadly results.
Not knowing what was going on in the General's office, I must admit that for the first time since leaving our lines, I realized that Jones and I might very well be taken outside and shot because of my brazen and foolhardy actions. After what seemed like another eternity, I was called back into the General's office and informed that after weighing the predicament facing the soldiers and officers under his command, he was prepared to surrender his entire Corps, including the division which I had visited earlier -- but would only do so to an American officer of equal rank. I told him that was not possible; that time was running out for him and his troops. The Russians were rapidly moving from the east and would soon overrun and deal harshly with his forces. I told the General that I had been sent by my Division Commander (which was not true) to accept his surrender, and if he wasn't ready to do so, then I expected him to provide safe passage for me and my driver back to the American lines.
After thinking this over for several minutes, the General agreed to surrender his entire command to me, but said he would not do so in his headquarters, preferring to surrender in the field among his troops and at a location halfway between his headquarters and my division’s command post (CP). I thought this insistence to be rather strange, but gladly agreed, knowing that it would take Jones and me closer to our lines. The General asked me to point out on the large battle map in his office the approximate location of my division’s CP.
By this time, it was getting late in the day and I did not want to be behind enemy lines after dark. Neither was I going to give him the location of my Division CP, nor even my Regimental or Battalion CP -- none of which, truthfully, I had any knowledge. Looking at his map, I found Jägersgrün, which I quickly estimated to be at least 25 miles or more from our present location. Pointing to a road junction near Carlsfeld just inside the German-Czechoslovakia border, I told the General that I believed that particular junction was approximately halfway between his headquarters and my Division's CP. I simply wanted us to be close to the American front lines when we finally departed company with the General and his entourage. The General then ordered several of his senior staff officers to accompany him. Jones and I, along with the Colonel I had captured earlier in Jägersgrün, following in my jeep -- which was sandwiched between the General's staff car and several other German staff cars -- with even more Wehrmacht motorcycles, sirens wailing, leading the way, we headed for the road junction which I had selected.
Arriving at the junction, we found what looked like a small hotel or beer hall, the proprietor of which was hiding with his family in the cellar. The General asked for some paper on which to write his surrender, but none of his staff apparently had brought any. He then told the proprietor to bring him some paper, and was informed by the poor fellow, who was shaking and scared nearly out of his wits, that all he had was some ledger sheets used to record his hotel transactions. As I remember it, the documents -- one in German and one in English -- were then written on several sheets of cheap and poor quality ledger paper. Both recorded, at my insistence, the unconditional surrender of what turned out to be more than 40,000 Wehrmacht troops, including what I thought at the time was a Lieutenant General, several Major Generals and a number of Brigadier Generals. I learned later, after researching the National Archive records, that this surrender action included at least twenty German generals, whose name and rank are listed below.
After receiving my copy of the surrender document, I (recalling a scene from a movie I had seen before the war) asked the General for a token of his surrender. Without hesitating, he gave me his personal pistol -- a small automatic. I then requested that the German Colonel I had captured in Jägersgrün be allowed to accompany me back to my lines, and that a motorcycle escort lead the way. That request was granted and, with considerable relief, we headed straight for our lines. Needless to say, the German officer later thanked me for including him in my request -- grateful to be a prisoner of war and safe in American hands.
Upon reaching Jägersgrün, Jones and I estimated we had driven at least forty-five miles behind the German lines. When I informed Capt. Kidd, my Company Commander, where we had been, and handed him the surrender document, he said words to the effect that I was one crazy fool, adding -- with a wide grin -- that he didn't know whether to courts martial me or recommend me for another medal. Capt. Kidd immediately sent the document to Major Withers, our Battalion Commander who, I assume, sent it immediately to Division Headquarters. I learned shortly afterward that while Company L had captured Jägersgrün, Company I had driven the Germans out of Tannenbergsthal and the 1st Battalion was in the process of capturing Klingenthal, during which it and it’s accompanying Tank Destroyers killed and wounded a number of enemy troops.
During our travel behind enemy lines, we observed a number of heavily camouflaged strong points, including a number of tanks which were located at strategic positions offering good “fields of fire” along the densely wooded and narrow roads. We also saw a number of artillery pieces, some located at bends in the roads with their tubes depressed so that they could fire at anything coming towards them. Many trees immediately adjacent to the roads that passed through heavily forested areas had been rigged with demolitions, to permit them to be blown down across the roads to help impede our advance. Had the German Corps Commander decided not to surrender, these defensive measures undoubtedly would have resulted in significant American and German casualties. These sightings were duly reported to Capt. Kidd upon our return.
An Unforgettable Procession
Later that night the 3rd Battalion received orders to continue our advance early the next morning, May 7th, towards the Czech border. Shortly before we were ready the next morning to “jump off” again, Capt. Kidd called all of his platoon leaders together and informed us that he had just received instructions that our battalion was to remain in our present positions, wait for further orders, and accept the surrender of any German soldiers who approached our positions. He cautioned us to inform everyone not to take any unnecessary chances and to be extremely careful in allowing anyone, particularly any German Schutzstaffel (SS) troops, into our lines -- reminding us of earlier incidents in which SS elements were known to have killed a number of Wehrmacht (German Regular Army) troops who were attempting to surrender to the American forces. Capt. Kidd reminded us that while this change in plans likely was the result of the unconditional surrender of the German troops which I had arranged for the previous day, May 6, he also said greater news might possibly be forthcoming and it would be tragic for anyone, having survived the horrors of war thus far, to now suffer unnecessary injury or lose his life if final victory was almost in our grasp.
We didn't have to wait long, less than an hour or so on May 7, before small groups of German troops began to approach our lines carrying white flags indicating that they were ready to surrender. We heard rumors that the same thing was happening in other areas. These reports were confirmed, during my visit to the National Archives, when I viewed the daily summary reports, weekly periodic reports, journals & files, plus other records of the 347th Infantry Regiment, its 3rd Battalion and the 87th Division. These documents stated that a number of Germans, including six officers -- at least one whom was a General -- had surrendered to our 1st Battalion at 1050 hours on May 7 while the 346th Infantry Regiment had arranged with a German Colonel, also on May 7, to move his command through the 346th lines the morning of May 8th.
Later on May 7th, after more German troops had entered our lines before sundown, Capt. Kidd called his platoon leaders together and gave us the news that we and our allies had been had been praying for these many past weeks, months, and years. We were informed -- based on a message that Col. Tupper, the Regimental Commander the 347th, had received earlier that day from Major General Culin, our Division Commander -- that the war in Europe was finally over! The delay, we were told, was because our higher headquarters had been instructed not to use any radios to disseminate the surrender information to its lower echelons.
This delay was confirmed by a note I found in the National Archives (see verbatim copy thereof, below), coupled with statements made by Col. John F.T. Murray. Col. Murray, who served as G-2, Headquarters, 87th Infantry Division, wrote "When we received the message in the late afternoon of May 7 we were told to get word to the troops that there would be no further offensive action after midnight. But, we were also instructed that we could not use radio to disseminate this information." He further stated that the 347th Regimental Combat Team was close to the Czechoslovakia border, about 20 miles from the 87th Infantry Division Headquarters, so General Culin sent him "to notify Col. Tupper and his command that the war was over."
Col. Murray added that although he and his driver spotted and were able to avoid several well-armed German soldiers while en route to the 347th Infantry Regiment's CP, he succeeded in delivering the news to Col. Tupper.
Naturally, everyone was overjoyed by the news since we had been given to understand that the Germans, particularly the SS units and other diehard Wehrmacht elements, were planning to retreat into Czechoslovakia and into the mountains of Bavaria where they would continue to fight as "Werewolf" units. The "Werewolf" rumor was later confirmed, in documentation captured from German forces, to be far more than rumor. It was based on plans approved at higher German command levels.
After giving us the news that the war was finally over, Capt. Kidd again told us to be careful, and not to let our guard down. I later learned at the National Archives, that his words of caution proved to be sound advice. Sadly, the Archive records disclosed that a member of our regiment was shot and killed on May 11 by a group of German stragglers whom he had been told to stop from entering our lines, until it could be established that they were not members of a werewolf unit. Apparently, that is what they were. I also found at the Archives an extremely important document in the files of the 347th Infantry Regiment that firmly fixes the date on which we first learned the war in Europe finally was coming to its end. The document, dated May 7 1945, reads as follows:
"Conference call from Half Year 6 in which he gives the following message from Monarch: Representatives of the German High Command have signed an Unconditional Surrender of all German Land, Sea and Air Forces to the AEF and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command at 0141B, 7 May 1945 under which all forces will cease active operations at 0001B, 9 May. Effective immediately all offensive operations will cease. Troops will remain in present positions. Moves involved in occupation duties will continue. Due to difficulty in communications there may be some delay in orders reaching enemy troops, so full defensive precautions will be taken. No release to the press pending official announcement to the press by the heads of the three major powers. End of Monarch message Half Year 6 directs that above be passed to troops carefully so that satisfaction that comes to us is not spoiled by thoughtless acts."
We learned several days later that the German forces which surrendered to us were under the impression (based on a report they had heard on Radio Prague) that suspension of hostilities would not occur until the night of May 8/9. This was at least 30 hours after the 347th Infantry Regiment had been ordered to cease ALL offensive operations and more than two full days after Jones and I had traveled behind enemy lines, hoping to obtain the surrender of the German forces in our sector. I will always believe that our foolish and risky venture helped in some small way to convince the German troops who were opposing the 87th Infantry Division, to speed up their suspension of hostilities.
According to documents at the Archives, very early on the morning of May 8th, a large number of Germans -- estimated to be more than 300 troops, including several Generals traveling in at least 70 motorized and tracked vehicles plus horse drawn wagons -- arrived at outposts manned by the 3rd Battalion, 347th Regiment, making it clear that they wanted to surrender. By noon on May 8, another 80 to 90 vehicles, some pulling artillery pieces and loaded with a large number of German troops accompanied by family members, and other males dressed in civilian clothes, entered the 3rd Battalion's lines and surrendered.
The 2nd Battalion reported that a small number of Germans, including three tanks, one towing a staff car, had surrendered to it. Several hours later, as I recall, Major Withers, Capt. Kidd, Lew Goad and I, along with other members of Company L, stood on the outskirts of Jägersgrün and watched as the commander of the German 204th Panzer Grenadier Regiment surrendered his troops consisting of 420 officers and men, accompanied by 15 SS troops, to the 3rd Battalion. By 1600 hours, yet another 200 officers and men, including at least 80 vehicles belonging to elements of the 2nd Panzer Division, crossed the 3rd Battalion lines. Following immediately behind that group were elements of the Hermann Goering Division, consisting of 500 or more officers and men traveling in at least 150 vehicles.
At 1635 hours, the 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry reported that while capturing its objectives, it had discovered a German military hospital in Klingenthal containing 640 injured German troops, and close by, in the village of Sachsenberg, another hospital holding 43 injured German troops. The 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry also reported that a number of German troops, including an unknown number of tanks belonging to elements of the Gross Deutschland Armored Division, were observed approaching its lines. Later, in the evening of May 8, the 3rd Battalion, 347th Infantry, reported that elements of the German 405th Infantry Division, consisting of 43 officers; 100 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 540 enlisted men, had surrendered to it. During the same time period the 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry reported it had accepted the surrender of 5 more German officers and 25 enlisted men while the 2nd Battalion, 347th Infantry reported the surrender to it of 20 German troops, including 4 Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth).
Prior to midnight, May 8 -- and before the cessation of active operations by the Allied Forces were ordered to begin at 0001B, 9 May -- at least 4,000 German soldiers were being held by the 3rd Battalion, 347th Infantry while the 1st and 2nd Battalions also were holding large numbers of German troops. Capt. Kidd, not wanting to set up his command post in a German home, ordered a couple of local carpenters to build a suitable structure opposite the POW enclosure on the outskirts of Jagersgrun. Wasting no time the carpenters erected a shed-like building with its' roof extending over a front porch. A couple of liberated chairs were placed on the porch so that Capt. Kidd, Lt. Vallorani and others could watch the growing number of POWs coming in to the enclosures.
Early on the morning of May 9, the escalating parade of surrendering German units continued, including a number of general officers and their staffs. Among these were General der Artillerie (General) Herbert Osterkamp, CG, 12th Military District and his staff; Generalmajor Oscar Doepping, CG of Chemnitz and the Gross Chemnitz Division; Generalmajor (Maj. Gen.) August Wellm, CG, Koruck 534, General der Flieger (Aviators) Erich Petersen, who was reported to be the CG, 90th Corps; and Generalleutnant Baron (Freiherr) Siegmund von Schacky auf Schoenfeld, CG 413th Infantry Division.
I recall standing on the outskirts of Jägersgrün along with Major Withers, Capt. Kidd, Lt. Vallorani, Lt. Lew Goad and other members of Company L and watching, this time with considerable pleasure, as Major General Culin, our Division Commander, formally accepted the surrender of at least one high-ranking German general. I believe that officer was Generalleutnant Baron (Freiherr) Siegmund von Schacky auf Schoenfeld, who requested permission from General Culin to allow him to move his troops, approximately 5000 men of the 413th Infanterie Division and their equipment, immediately through our lines to their homes near Hof, Bavaria. This request was promptly denied and the general, his staff and troops were placed along with the other German generals in one of the three POW camps which had been set up by Major Wither's 3rd Battalion. We continued to watch as an unbroken convoy of the surrendering German troops passed for hour after hour through Jägersgrün on the road leading in from Tannenbergstahl, a small German village located about a mile south of Jägersgrün.
Later during the afternoon of May 9, Major Withers informed Col. Tupper that the 3rd Battalion had more POWs, nearly 7500, than it could properly handle and requested assistance as soon as possible. Col. Tupper directed the 2nd Battalion to send a guide to Capt. Kidd’s company to lead the excess POWs, consisting of more than 25 officers and 650 men, to the 2nd Battalion's POW enclosure. In an After Action Report filed on May 9 by the 347th Infantry Regiment, it was noted that Company G sent a reinforced platoon to the 3rd Battalion to screen and receive approximately 500 POWs and vehicles. During the day the 347th Infantry received an ever-increasing flow of German troops, accompanied by wives, children, mistresses, and numerous other individuals dressed in civilian clothes intent on surrendering rather than being captured by the Russians. We assumed that these "civilians" likely included a number of Gestapo and Nazi Party officials who would be soon ferreted out by our interrogators. At 2320 hours, May 9, the 2nd Battalion reported holding approximately 1400 POWs in its enclosure. By 2400 hours most, if not all, of the temporary POW enclosures which had been established in the 347th Infantry Regiment’s area were overflowing. Three of these in were in the 3rd Battalion area.
On May 10, Generalmajor Erich Eisenbach, CG, Field Command Post 641, together with the troops under his command crossed the 3rd Battalion lines. As noted earlier, Major Withers placed Eisenbach in overall command of three of the POW camps that had been established by the 3rd Battalion in the area of Tannenbergsthal, Jägersgrün and Rautenkranz. In placing Eisenbach in command of the camps -- subordinate, of course to Major Withers -- Eisenbach was told that he would be held responsible for assuring law, order and discipline throughout those camps.
Several days later in connection with the above, Generalmajor Eisenbach addressed an interesting letter, dated May 13, 1945 to Major Withers advising him, in summary, that:
Generalmajor Wellm, CG Koruck (AOK 7), left Carlsfeld, Germany o/a 0600 hrs, May 9 to cross the American lines. Also on May 9th, Generalmajor Erich Eisenbach, CG, Field Command Post 641, his troops marched from Platten (Horni Blatna), Czechoslovakia and arrived in Carlsfeld 30 minutes later. Eisenbach, upon his arrival in Carlsfeld, was told by one of Wellm's officers that Wellm had issued discharge papers to every German soldier in his command, believing that the Americans would release the surrendering Germans to their respective hometowns. Eisenbach stated that he had done the same for his troops, and also had appropriate entries made in their paybooks.
Eisenbach went on to state that when he crossed the American lines on May 10, Major Withers put him in charge of three POW camps located in the vicinity of Tannenbergstahl and Rautenkrantz, both adjacent to Jägersgrün. He further stated that Major Withers told him that it would be his responsibility to assure law, order and discipline of the POWs located in those camps. Eisenbach also stated that Withers informed him that he, Eisenbach, would carry out his responsibilities as provided by the German Military Code of Justice as well as German disciplinary penalty provisions -- and if became necessary to imprison any POW who required such punishment, then such violator would be turned over to the Americans for imprisonment.
Eisenbach also said that a number of POWs, apparently believing that they had been discharged from further service in the German Army, were refusing to obey orders issued by him and the German officers in their camps. He said he directed the German camp commanders to immediately call in all discharge papers and cancel the entries made in the soldiers' paybooks. Eisenbach advised Major Withers that his orders were not executed uniformly. He stated that in Camp #1, all discharge papers were declared invalid but were left with the POWs -- but the discharge entries in their paybooks were canceled. In two other camps (# 2 & # 3) the discharge certificates were called in and submitted to Major Withers while some certificates (in Camp # 3) were destroyed. Eisenbach also advised that in some units, particularly the "Gross-Deutschland" regiment, no discharge papers had been issued. Eisenbach closed his letter stating that the above measures were taken purely for disciplinary reasons.
On May 11 we learned that a soldier of another Battalion of the 347th Infantry Regiment, who was manning a roadblock set up to prevent further Germans from entering our lines, had been shot and killed by several men dressed in civilian clothing, possibly so-called “werewolves”, whom he attempted to stop from entering our lines. In reviewing the 347th Regiment's journals and files in the National Archives, I noted that another American soldier who was guarding German prisoners in POW Camp #2 was reported killed by a sniper, apparently a “werewolf”, hiding in nearby woods.
The records also stated that our higher headquarters then issued orders to allow no more German troops to enter our lines. We were instructed to tell them to surrender to the Russians, which, obviously they refused to do. Thousands more German troops and civilians were waiting outside our lines pleading to come in. The records reveal that Major Withers reported that the waiting troops and fleeing civilians apparently had run out of food. He requested permission to at least be permitted to feed them. It appears that request was granted.
Sometime later on May 12, I took time out to write a letter to my father. to let him know that I was OK. I tried to describe some of the unbelievable events that had taken place in the past few days. I wrote: “Now when you shoot a Kraut, they call it murder, which goes to show just how nonsensical war really is. Just by signing a little piece of paper, men can change the lives and destiny of millions of people -- and those of us who yesterday had the sole purpose of killing other men can now laugh, joke, smoke and give food and shelter to those same people."
I briefly mentioned that “your son had two complete German Infantry Divisions surrender to him (one of which I later discovered was a Corps size command) as well as a number of other assorted enemy organizations." I noted that "by the time we had gotten back (to our lines) my jeep driver and I had been forty-five miles inside the German lines and had experienced one hell of a time. Our “brass” said they didn't know whether to courts martial me or to commend us." Not wanting to alarm my Dad, I added "I guess it won't be the "CM" 'cause I understand we'd been recommended for something. Well, it means more points if it comes through."
I then mentioned that "I had been recommended several months earlier for a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and, while that's well and good, I understand that officers don't count in the point system". I noted (having already earned more than 85 points) that "as an enlisted man I probably stand a good chance of staying away from the CBI (Pacific theater) with prospects for a discharge upon our return to the States." Although I knew what my Dad or any other father would advise in response, I asked for his advice concerning acceptance or rejection of the commission, saying "I've just about made up my mind, but I'll wait to hear what you think. So write soon."
Shortly after writing the above letter to my father, I was told to report to Division Headquarters where, having been awarded a battlefield commission, I was promoted from Tech Sgt to 2nd Lt. by Brigadier General John L. McKee, our Assistant Division Commander. I was later informed that Jones and I actually had been recommended by Capt. Kidd for another decoration. If so, then we're still waiting for it.
Suffice it to say, I would have been more than happy to settle for a notarized copy of that surrender document -- signed by the German general (whose name I've also forgotten) and "Captain" Thomas L. Stafford, United States Army. More important than receiving another medal or even a copy of the surrender document, is the fact that our risky adventure behind the German lines apparently convinced the enemy forces opposing us to surrender more than forty eight hours prior to the night of May 8/9, the time at which the Germans believed suspension of hostilities would actually occur. I have often wondered, during the years since then, what might have happened to Jones and me had that German general discovered, before he surrendered his entire command, that he was not dealing with an officer, but had surrendered to an enlisted infantryman. Would he have done so anyway or, would he have ordered me shot for my brazenness and impudence in believing that one of Hitler's Generals would even consider surrendering -- particularly to anyone of lesser rank?
Between May 13 and May 14, approximately 4,000 more German troops had gathered outside of the 3rd Battalion's lines pleading to be allowed entry while another 3800 had assembled outside of the 2nd Battalion's lines and also were appealing for entry. I learned, several years after the war ended, that the Russians insisted that the American and British forces cease accepting those German troops who had not entered our lines, and that we turn over to them any German soldier we were holding who had fought on Russian soil, particularly any "SS" troops. While I have no knowledge that such demands were met, I assume that many of those German soldiers who remained outside our lines on or after May 14, were forced to surrender to the Russians. If so, then I deeply regret that the statement I made to the German Corps Commander, i.e., "that if he formally surrendered his command to the American forces, the Russians would have to honor that formal surrender document", may not have been honored, and particularly so if any of his men were forced to surrender to the Russians. I also learned several years ago that of the three million German soldiers captured by the Russians during the war, only two million survived to return to Germany long afterwards -- many after twenty or more years of hard labor in Russian prisons.
The Archives reveal that on May 15 the 347th Infantry Regiment received orders to evacuate all POWs to other POW camps located in the rear of the 87th Division's sector. This was accomplished in the next two days. On May 22, orders were received to issue German currency (Reichmarks) to the POWs who were to be paroled to their homes. The records state that each officer was issued 80 Reichmarks and each enlisted person was given 40 Reichmarks. Based on my research of the National Archives files pertaining to the 87th Infantry Division, listed below are the names of those German generals who surrendered to the 347th Infantry Regiment, including the units they commanded, or were with at the time of surrender.
Major Tom Stafford