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biography

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William (Bill) Porter
1944

William "Bill" Porter And Penny
TheNational POW Convention
in Charlotte, NC

Last Name:
PORTER
First Name Middle Initial:
WILLIAM
Nick Name:
BILL
Street:  3830 N PANTANO RD. City & State: TUCSON, AZ E-Mail:  WPORTER202@AOL.COM
Zip: 85750 Phone:  520-296-5299 SPOUSE: PENNY
Conflict: WW II Service Branch: ARMY Unit: 35 DIV. 134 REG. CO. L
Theater: ETO Where Captured: BATTLE OF THE BULGE Date Captured: 12/44
Camps Held In: STALAG 11B How Long Interned: 5 MONTHS
liberated / repatriated: LIBERATED Date of Liberated: 04/45 Age at Capture: 19
Medals Received: PRISONER OF WAR MEDALS MEDAL, PURPLE HEART MEDAL, BRONZE STAR
Military Job: PFC Company: TIMKEN ROLLER BEARING
Occupation after War: ENGINEER

 

Bio:

THE LUDENSCHIDE CONNECTION

Bill Porter, an American prisoner of war in Germany, braced himself against the icy winds—and German guards with guns. A shadow of his former high school football physique, the twenty-year-old infantryman knew he was in real trouble not only from starvation, chronic dysentery and a festering leg wound, but from an increasing familiar pain, the agony of corneal ulcers that had threatened to blind him each time he caught a cold or got run down during his childhood years. Now, without medication, Bill was losing his sight, and the morning came when he collapsed in the line-up of prisoners being forced to rebuild a bombed-out railroad track. He was trucked to a hospital in Ludenschide.

The temporary hospital for care of German war casualties had been set up in the town’s three-story elementary school. Although Bill was a prisoner, his leg was treated and he was placed in the eye injury ward on the third floor. There he shared a space with the only other American prisoner, a pilot whose eyes had been burned when he bailed out over Germany, robbing him of sight.

Since Bill could see out of one eye, he quickly became the blind pilot’s companion and guide. He fed him—the pilot’s hands and wrists had been burned as well—and took him for walks up and down the halls of the building. But empty hours haunted both young men.

"If only we had something to read, a newspaper, magazine, anything," Bill said to his friend one day. "I could read to you…just so’s it’s in English."

"I have a book," the pilot responded in the warm, midwestern drawl Bill had come to know so well. "Take a look in my jacket pocket." He paused for a moment. "It’s…it’s my Bible."

From that moment on, day in and day out, through his unbandaged seeing eye, Bill read The Old Testament aloud. Then he read The New Testament and favorite passages until the entire Bible had been read and reread many times. They didn’t realize it then, but through the words from the greatest Book ever written, an intangible bond grew between them as they found comfort and the strength they needed to survive.

One morning as they walked down the hall, they heard the unmistakable drone of American bombers. It wasn’t until they stopped for a moment to talk with a nurse that Bill detected the whine of misdirected bombs overhead. With no time to search for shelter, he grabbed his friend, threw him to the floor, and shoved him under a baby-grand piano. The hospital received a direct hit…an explosion that burst Bill’s eardrums.

Bill has no idea how long it was before he regained consciousness or felt the pain from multiple head injuries and an eight-inch shaft of steel through his face. At first, he couldn’t hear the shouts of German soldiers outside the ruptured building, or the cries of the victims. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t hear anything except his own heart hammering in his chest. But, he smelled smoke and knew he had to get out. With his one free arm he struggled to extricate himself from confining plaster, planks and debris. Then, with a final upward push he broke through the fallen roof—and caught "a glimpse of hell."

The dead lay everywhere: the nurse he had been talking to only moments before; doctors; the wounded; the sick. Everyone was dead—except himself. And his friend? Where was he? Could the old piano have withstood the crushing weight of roofing beams, falling bricks and cement? That’s when the thought struck him. If his friend had survived he would not only be blind, he’d be buried alive. Bill’s ears screamed. His head hurt. What was his friend’s name anyway? He couldn’t remember. Was he losing his mind? What difference did it make? He had to crawl back down and find him. Now! Please God, he prayed, let him be alive.

The searing pain from the steel in his face dimmed amid thoughts of what he might find. He reached under the piano and felt a leg move. "Are you okay, buddy?" he said. "I think so," the voice replied.

Somehow during the next ten minutes, Bill maneuvered them both down two flights of shattered stairwells. Outside the street was milling with a confusion of police, medics, ambulances and fire engines. He found an empty bench and the two huddled together for warmth in the bitter cold, all the while Bill dodging the Germans spitting at the Americans who had lived while their own had perished. Still others grabbed the glinting steel protruding from his face and tried to pull it out. Perhaps they were only trying to help? What did it matter? Unable to fight them off any longer, he put his head between his knees and covered himself with his arms.

"Bill," the pilot’s teeth chattered, "do you think you can get back inside and get us a blanket—and my Bible?" "Sure," he said. "I’ll try. Just don’t go anywhere," he added jokingly. "I’ll be back. I promise."

The climb back up the stairs took longer than Bill thought it would, but his friend’s treasured Bible and dog tags were on the bed where he’d left them. He grabbed a blanket, and with everything clutched in his arms hurried back down the broken stairs and out to the bench. His buddy was gone.

Where was he? His voice a plea, he shouted at passersby. "Has anyone seen a guy with bandages over his eyes!" He held up two fingers and pointed to his watch. No one responded. No one spoke English. God! Keep him safe, he prayed. The guy can’t see!

Alone now, and in excruciating pain, Bill sat down on the bench and covered his head with the blanket. Hours of sirens, shouts and running footsteps passed before a young Ludenschide doctor peered under the blanketed figure. He took Bill to his office in a nearby building. There, after giving him a shot of Schnapps, the doctor sliced into his cheek and jaw to relieve the suction and removed the steel and other pieces of metal and concrete embedded in his head. Finally, he rebandaged the eye. Still a prisoner of war, Bill was packed into a boxcar and later forced to walk to Fallingbastel, fifty miles away, where he stayed in another prison camp until the war ended.

When he returned to the United States he wrote to the War Department and asked them to search for his friend. He placed the letter in a box along with the pilot’s dog tags—and a well-read Bible. Then he printed his return address—Sigma Nu Fraternity, LeHigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Nightmares, panic at sudden sounds, and mood swings would plague Bill for the rest of his life, as they do most victims of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. But even as a young father and now a grandfather, he would always find joy in reminiscing about the good things in life—before the war—and after.

He never talks about his time as a prisoner. He prefers instead to tell stories about his years as a rancher, one hundred miles from town, where he felt closer to God and his family. He especially likes to tell his children and grandchildren stories about when he was in college fifty-three years ago—especially the day an unfamiliar car pulled up in front of Sigma Nu.

From the second-floor landing of the fraternity, he remembers glancing out the window at the blue Chevy—and the driver who climbed out from behind the wheel. It was lunch time. He knew he should hurry on down to the living room where the rest of the brothers were waiting for the lunch gong, but there was something about the stranger walking up the sidewalk to the front door that stopped him. The bell chimed. His roommate, Jack Venner, got up to answer. "Hello! Can I help you?" he said.

From where he stood Bill felt sudden moisture dampen his forehead. He had to grip the banister to steady himself.

"Yes," said a voice with a warm, mid-western twang. "I’m looking for an old friend of mine named Bill Porter. I want to thank him…for lots of things." He smiled his eyes scanning the young men in the crowded living room. "And this might sound sort of crazy," he added, "but I wouldn’t know him even if I saw him. I…I’ve never seen him before."

Postscript: The two Ex-POWs talked all night. They promised to keep in touch. But life has its demands. It takes curious twists and turns, and they lost each other. Today, Bill is 74. He can’t remember the pilot’s name, but the bond born in Ludenschide remains. He hopes someone will read this story who does remember—so he can give him a call.

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