Safe and well; hope to see you soon

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Elmer Nelson Horey, the son of Leon and Amy (Merrill) Horey of Fredonia, New York, enlisted in the United States Army Coast Artillery Corps on February 22, 1942 at the age of 24. Elmer was a schoolteacher, and he taught kindergarten through eighth grade in rural schools in and around the Fredonia area. At the time of Elmer’s enlistment, his older brother, George, was serving as a ship fitter in the Seabees in the Pacific Theater, and his older brother, Kenneth, was serving in the United States Army as a Private First Class. Elmer was soon accepted into a United States Army Air Cadet training program, and he left Fort Niagara for a technical school at Kessler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi in mid-1942. He officially became an Air Cadet in July 1943, and he then trained in aerial gunnery in Fort Meyers, Florida.

On December 11, 1941, four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ declaration of war against Japan, Germany declared war against the United States. Elmer was sent overseas in January 1944 and arrived in Great Britain on February 18. He served as a gunner in a bomber, and by April 1944, he had been promoted to Sergeant and had engaged in five missions over “enemy territory.” After April 9 of that year, though, the letters home stopped. Elmer regularly wrote to his family–offering his locations and details of his missions as he could–but he was reported missing-in-action when the plane on which he was one of the crew was forced down in Germany on April 11. Elmer’s mom, Amy, went over two months without word regarding her son’s fate–a newspaper article in the local paper describes this time, “His mother and other relatives and friends are hopeful that he will be reported a prisoner later.”

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View from inside a World War II aerial bomber

In mid-June 1944, Amy received a telegram from Staff Sergeant Frank L. Batterson of Everett, Washington–Batterson had met Elmer in a German prison camp before he was sent home with a contingent of prisoners, and he asked Amy to write to him for more information. She immediately did so, and on June 14, 1944, Batterson wrote back:

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Dear Mrs. Horey,

When I left the German prison camp May 5, some of the boys gave me their home addresses and asked me to send their love to their folks and let them know they were in good health and spirits. I didn’t know your boy very well but do know that he was well when I left there.

The boys in the camp are well supplied with army clothes and toilet articles. The Red Cross has sent them bulk issues of these things along with food parcels. The food supply is not too bad but the boys asked me to urge their next of kin to send food parcels to help with what they receive from the Red Cross.

The boys receive musical instruments furnished by the Swedish Y.M.C.A. They have plays and they play ball. They have a library and read a great deal…

On June 23, 1944, ten days after Batterson’s letter was sent, Amy received official notification from the Adjutant General’s Department in Washington, D.C., confirming the unofficial report that Elmer was captured and placed in a German prison camp: “Report just received through International Red Cross that your son, Sgt. Elmer N. Horey, is a prisoner of war of the German government.” Amy did not receive word regarding Elmer’s definite location until February 16, 1945, when the Provost Marshall’s office in Washington, D.C., informed her via telegram that her son was a prisoner-of-war at Stalag Luft III, 17-B, near Krems, Austria.

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Stalag Luft III

“In the middle of the beautiful Austrian countryside of rolling hills and thick forest stood an ugly place–the sprawling eyesore and den of misery known as Stalag Luft 17-B. Double rows of barbed-wire fencing surrounded low-slung prison barracks and a dirt compound. Helmeted Nazi guards with machine guns manned towers at the edges, waiting to shoot dead any prisoner who crossed the warning wire that ran a few feet inside the fencing…” After being shot down and captured in a mission over Germany, Elmer and his fellow crewmen were sent to Dulag Luft, a “processing center” in Frankfurt, for interrogation. Non-commissioned officers, including Elmer, were then separated from commissioned officers and eventually packed into boxcars and sent to Stalag Luft III, 17-B, a prison camp six kilometers northwest of Krems, Austria.

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“A series of long, single-story buildings housed the fliers. Each one was divided into halves shared by 150 to 240 men (and sometimes many more), who also shared straw-filled, flea-ridden mattresses in triple-deck bunks, a single stove with scant fuel (54 pounds of coal per week), wash basins into which cold water ran only a few hours each day, and a single indoor latrine for use after dark (for daytime use, there were multi-hole latrines a short walk from the barracks). Hot water and showers were as rare as toothbrushes, combs, and toilet paper. Together with diarrhea and dysentery, the poor hygiene made life at Stalag 17-B precarious.”

According to the Geneva Convention, non-commissioned officers were not required to work, “so they filled their days with chat, occasional visits to the camp’s makeshift library, exercise, and thoughts of how to stay a step ahead of hunger, depression, and the guards.” The officers received shoebox-sized parcels from the Red Cross that contained canned tuna, cheese, dehydrated milk, liver paste, raisins, margarine, sugar, cigarettes or condensed chocolate bars, but while the Germans were expected to stock enough of these parcels to provide “one week of sustenance for each American,” many parcels disappeared en route and, according to one officer, only allowed “a man to live…at ten percent over starvation.” In March 1945, Amy received a postcard from Elmer dated December 31; the message in his handwriting follows:

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The old year is rapidly drawing to a close. I might say that it has been the most confined and closely guarded of my life. Everything seems to be quite alright but we are hoping for the better things of life to come our way soon.

On April 8, 1945, the American officers were told to gather their possessions and prepare to move out–4,000 American prisoners from Stalag 17-B were then ordered to march west as the Allied forces advanced into Germany and German-occupied areas (an estimated 200 sick prisoners remained behind and were liberated by the Russians a month later). The officers, including Elmer, were liberated by the 13th Armored Division on May 3, 1945; Elmer sent a cablegram home on May 23 in which he assured the family that he was, “safe and well; hope to see you soon. Love and kisses.” Elmer arrived in New York on Sunday, June 2 and was reunited with his family soon after. He returned to teaching elementary school and junior high in Fredonia and married Bertha Marie Fiebelkorn, the daughter of Arthur and Genevieve (Seybold) Fiebelkorn, on September 2, 1946. Elmer was awarded the Prisoner of War Medal for his service; all of Amy’s sons survived the war and made it back home. 

9 thoughts on “Safe and well; hope to see you soon

  1. Jamie, thank you for the article. My sister posted a link that she had found somehow. I am Elmer’s grandson, Jason. I am not into genealogy in general, as I am my grandfather’s history specifically. He has the distinction of being the first “enlisted” navigator in US military history. He flew aboard a B-24D Liberator, from the base of Wendling, with the 392nd Bomber Group. He was a waist gunner, studying to be a navigator. He failed the exam once. Upon taking it a second time, he went to return the tools in, fearing another failed exam. He was told to keep the tools, and became the crew navigator, after the original navigator was called up to fly with the lead airship crew. His aircraft was shot down on a mission to Bernberg. Of the crew on board, Co-Pilot Callaghan was KIA, while remaining crew was captured as POW. Even only flying 15 total missions, even his B-24D has some odd significance attached to it. As many bombers in the era were decorated with nose art, or special nicknames, making them unique, his was never decorated or named. It was only ever mentioned by serial number #42-109835. Yet, a photo of his plane, bearing that serial number, was featured in history books on WW2 era aviation. Later on, it was discovered, that the Revell Model company decided to make a kit available to build a model B-24 (with many themes and decorations and paint patterns, common to the differing WW2 theatres that this bomber was used in). Yet, with the options in the kit, came only one serial number, being a very distinct and visible marking. And somehow the company picked #42-109835 to use for their kit. There were many more famous B24 craft, many with intricate nose art, or a nickname that stood out, or ones that flew record numbers of missions, or the few that returned from the famous Ploesti oil refinery raid (not a 392nd mission, but still a notable B-24 based mission). There was an article in a magazine by the name of “Crosshairs”, which I think was published around 92-93, which my grandfather contributed an aircrew photo, and his recount of the events that took place. With that information, when I was much younger, I did manage to track down one of those rare kits, and build him a replica of his plane as a Christmas gift. Even many years after his passing, I still have it. If you are ever interested in more history, and some great stories from the time period, http://www.b24.net has a wealth of information. Thank you again, for your extensive and well written story about my grandfather.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for reaching out! My grandfather met Elmer a few times when he was young, but I have had very little information to go off of. I tried my best to piece together the story from the local news (and I’m glad you enjoyed my post!), but I had not come across any of the information you’ve outlined. He was an even more incredible individual than I realized! Although we never met, of course, I’ve always felt more of a connection with him/his story as I knew it than with our other “Merrill” cousins–I think it’s because he was a schoolteacher (I am, too). Elmer’s story is the reason I took an aviation history course in college, actually!

      This is a lot of information to unpack, and I’m so appreciative. I’ll have to go through it all again and again before sending it to my grandfather–he’ll love this story. I can’t thank you enough, and send your sister my best! (I’m going to read over my history textbooks again to see if there’s a photo of Elmer’s B-24–do you have a name for a book it’s in? I’ll start looking for that magazine article now, too.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey, Jamie –

    Caught this article while doing some research on Elmer’s brother, George. George was my father, and I remember your grandfather as my “Uncle Tug”. I only saw him a couple of times in my life, the last being in 1963 when I was about 12 years old. My dad took mom, my brother asister and me back to Fredonia to see Grandma Amy, your grandfather, Aunt Lee and Uncle Walt and Uncle Ken and his family. Most of the Horey family was in Upstate New York. My dad settled on the West Coast after returning from his service in the Navy after the end of hostilities.

    Being a fan of history in general and WWII history (epecially military aviation) in particular, I’ve often reflected on the few stories my dad shared about his expeiences in the Pacific as a SF2Cin the SeaBees and your grandad’s service, capture and imprisonment in Stalag Luft 17B. Details were scant, as these gentlemen came from a generation which endured much about which they spoke very little.

    Thank you for your diligent research. Especially enjoyed the part about the Revell model kit of the B-24D. Had no idea the s/n was that of Your grandad’s/my uncle’s aircraft. What are the odds, huh?

    I’ll now be on a quest to find the kit and build it. Do you remember the actual paintscheme of Elmer’s ship? I am assuming it was probably satndard 8th Air Force Olive Drab over gray, but would appreciate your confimation.

    If you’d like to reach out to me, my email address is mbrady2322@gmail.com.

    Anyway….nice meeting a new relative and getting some more info to fill in the blanks.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Jason.

    “Uncle'” Mike

    Michael Brady
    Fresno, CA

    Liked by 1 person

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