Artifact History: Group photo of Oflag 64 Kriegies taken in January 1944 owned by LTC John Huff Van Vliet Jr.
l-r: 2LT Willie F. Higgins, 1LT Roy J. Chappell Jr, LTC John Huff Van Vliet Jr, 2LT Frank Newell Aten;
They were known as the “Escape Artists” because of their multiple escape attempts. Chappell Jr, Van Vliet Jr, and Aten finally successfully escaped during the Long March.
LTC John Huff Van Vliet Jr in Iceland during winter 1941.
Artifact History: This Red Cross food parcel address and Customs declaration tag was filled out by Mrs. Alma E. Stewart, mother of CPT Donald Boyle Stewart.
The tag was attached to a 5-kilogram Red Cross food parcel which Mrs. Stewart personally packed and mailed to her son. The food parcel contained 1 towel, 1 LB brown sugar, 1 package of oats, 1 package of cake flour, 1 package of yellow biscuit mix, 2 packages of dried beans, 1 package of figs, 1 package of dates, 1 package of vitamins, 5 packages of gum, 1 package of candy, 1 package of powdered eggs, 1 package of coffee, 1 package of dehydrated apples, 1 tooth powder, 1 tooth brush, 1 pair men’s hose (socks), 1 comb, 3 pencils, and 4 chocolate bars.
Note: tobacco products were usually sent in separate special tobacco parcels.
Today, May 8, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the German surrender to Allied troops in 1945, officially ending World War II in Europe; war continued to rage in the Pacific Theater for another four months, until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. To commemorate this landmark anniversary, the Library of Congress is highlighting who served in various capacities during the war. Among those profiled is Oflag 64 kriegie Jimmie Kanaya, a Japanese American who served in World War II as a medic with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Jimmie Kanaya was deployed to Italy in September 1944; before his departure, however, he helped his parents navigate their forced relocation from their home in Oregon to an internment camp for Japanese American citizens in Idaho, where they remained for the duration of the war. Even as his own family endured captivity on the home front, Kanaya served as a medic who “aggressively looked out for his men,” performing acts of heroism time and again that resulted in his receiving both the Silver Star and the Bronze Star recognizing valor in combat.
Kanaya was captured by German troops in southern France while assisting in the evacuation of casualties from fighting in the Voges mountains and was sent east to Oflag 64. His time in the camp was short-lived: Kanaya arrived in Szubin at the end of November 1944 but was among those POWs deemed healthy enough to be marched out of Oflag 64 ahead of advancing Soviet troops in January 1945. Despite three separate escape attempts, Kanaya remained a POW until his liberation at the end of April 1945.
Kanaya went on to serve his country in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, retiring in 1974 after 33 years of service. He continued to represent the 442nd at various ceremonies and public events, including the 2010 Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the White House wherein President Barack Obama publicly recognized the collective World War II service of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The majority of the 100th consisted of Nisei (second generation Americans of Japanese ancestry) from Hawaii, and after its incorporation into the 442nd, the unit became the most decorated in U.S. military history.
Colonel Kanaya passed away in November 2019, after which his family donated several of his wartime belongings to the Friends of Oflag 64, including the canteen that Kanaya used during his captivity at Oflag 64 as well as a silver cigarette box that he was able to keep with him until his liberation. These items will be on eventual display at the planned Oflag 64 museum in Szubin, Poland.
Jimmie's Wartime Canteen and Silver Cigarette Box
Artifact Description: A hand held instrument (mechanical map measuring tool) used to measure distances on a map. In WWII, it was used by the Artillery Forward Observer to radio corrections for an artillery barrage to the artillery battery so it could hit the desired impact zone accurately. The curvimeter was produced Pre-WWII (1938-1939) by Universal d.P.a E. Mund Heidelberg.
Artifact History: Captain Robert T. Henry hid this curvimeter in the lining of his coat at the time of his capture during the Battle of Rapido River, one of the bloodiest battles of the Italian Campaign. It was not discovered by his German captors during his 15 months of captivity.
The Long March From Oflag 64 to Hammelburg, Germany
In early 1944 Howard Holder and fellow POW, George Durgin, were in the throes of planning an escape from Oflag 64. Part of their preparation included how they were going to carry the food and water necessary for them to get to their destination, Danzig.
"George, who was super handy at mechanics, took a pencil and paper and designed an exceedingly practical knapsack about eighteen inches long, fifteen inches wide and four or five inches deep, which would hold exactly the amount of food and water we wanted to carry with us. George made his knapsack from some gunnysacking and I made mine from the old jacket of a pair of army fatigues. These packs took hours of sewing because we had to do it all by hand. George was very careful with his sewing so that when he finished the job looked like a machine stitch. I was a little more careless, and he swore mine would fall apart before we got halfway to our goal."
(Howard Holder, "Escape To Russia" Athens GA, 1994, Iberian Publishing Co. Pg 182)
Although Holder and Durgin never were able to follow through with their plan, Howard did keep his knapsack as you can see in the picture to the right. Special thanks to the Holder family for sharing this treasure with the Oflag 64 family.
Hope Langan (daughter of former POW 2Lt Vincent A. Grimes) recently had lunch with Kriegy Bill Sharpe and his daughter Cindy. During lunch she shared with them her father's Wartime Log.
Beginning in 1943, the War Prisoners Aid of the YMCA—dedicated to the spiritual, educational, and recreational needs of POWs—supplied blank journals for inclusion in Red Cross Aid packages bound for Europe. It was reported that they sent enough journals for every American POW. It is unknown how many actually made it into the hands of prisoners, or how many survived the camps, forced marches and the intervening years. Wartime Logs came with a cover letter containing the instruction to let the book be a “visible link between yourself and the folks at home.” The journals were coveted, bartered and traded. They created a precious forum in which to list frustrations and to sketch out hopes and desires. 2Lt Grimes' War Log contained many personal messages, pictures from the camp and a day by day description of the Long March. Many Thanks to Hope for letting Bill and Cindy view your family's treasure.
On the right is an example of an artifact that was donated to Friends of Oflag 64.
Lt Wilbur Blaine Sharpe carried this Bible with him when he was deployed during World War II and it remained on his person for the entirety of his wartime service. Sharpe was captured by General Erwin Rommel’s forces during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, in February 1943, and spent 19 months as a prisoner-of-war (POW) in Occupied Poland before escaping and making his way to freedom in January 1945.
We are particularly interested in collecting any and all personal articles, books, diaries, or recorded memories of former POWs relating to Oflag 64 as soon as possible, as they will be used as reference materials for designing the Museum. All Oflag 64 artifacts are considered to be significant and all Oflag 64 related artifacts are of value to the Museum.