Joseph Klein was a Corporal in a rifle squad and graduate of Military Intelligence School assigned to A Company, 16th Infantry, 1st Division.
On November 8, 1942, Joe and his Division were in the North African invasion at Arzew. They fought their way across North Africa to El Ghitar. On March 28, 1943 at the age of twenty-five, he was taken prisoner, along with some others of his Company, outside of Tunis by the Germans . They were put into a stockade to await transportation to Germany.
A small hunk of black bread and very little water was the only ration they received. A week later they were loaded on trucks in a convoy. En route they were strafed by British Spitfires. Joe and two others jumped off the truck and found a gully to take cover in. Soon after some Arabs with pitchforks rousted them out and returned them to the convoy. From there they were taken to an airstrip and loaded onto German JU52s. These planes had big spaces in the floor, which came in handy for those who had dysentery while they flew across the Mediterranean to Capua, Italy.
Once in Italy, Joe and others were loaded onto already overcrowded boxcars with only one bucket of water per car. The next morning a German guard opened the door to give them a ration of bread and fill the bucket with water. He found the empty bucket had been used as a commode. It so angered him, he threw it back into the car covering many of them.
Joe was sent to Stalag 7A in Munich, Germany where he was interrogated. There the Non Coms were separated from the Privates, whom they never saw again because they went to work camps. The Non Coms were sent to Stalag IIIB in Furstenburg, Germany. On Joe's first day in Stalag IIIB the Germans corralled them in a corner of the compound. A German Officer informed them that in a short time they would be crawling on their hands and knees like the starved Russians were doing. The interpreter was told to tell the guard this would never happen and that he would go to the Russian front first. The guard stomped off calling them choice names.
While in Stalag IIIB, Joe and other prisoners aggravated the guards with anything that would upset them. However, when they received Red Cross parcels, they would use them to bride the sentries for articles that would help them get radios and other useful items that could be used to escape or just exist.
Russians were advancing. On that march they were given a small piece of black bread. After a few days they were very hungry, but as they marched, they saw a farm. Joe and a few others went in the barn where Joe milked a cow into his helmet for some fresh milk. An S.S. on horseback found him and managed to kick Joe in the head before returning him to the march. His injury made him struggle to keep up with the others.
Joe endured twenty-five months of suffering before he was liberated on June 6, 1945. After being discharged on September 9, 1945, he became a refrigeration sales and serviceman. He worked twenty-five years for A. Alport & Son Wholesale Plumbing and Heating, Inc. as a salesman.
Joe received many medals for his Army duties including the American Defense Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star Medal, American Ex-Prisoner of War Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Service Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Joe is presently Commander of Department of Florida, American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Message to Future Generations:
Joe's message to our future generation is, "Our loss of freedom gave you your freedom to keep."