And Now You Know: Thanksgiving in Stalag Luft #4

Published 11:44 am Friday, November 24, 2017

By Mike Louviere

As we rotate through the year, different holidays mean different things.

Christmas means lights and presents; Easter, died eggs; Halloween, candy; Thanksgiving, food, and a lot of it; we spend time with family and friends and eat turkey, ham, duck, goose, chicken, a mix of vegetables, the obligatory green bean casserole, and many desserts, usually a mandatory pumpkin pie.

There was one group of men who were grateful for far less on a Thanksgiving Day in 1944. They were American airmen in Stalag Luft #4, a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

James V. Holmes was a crewman aboard a B-24 bomber that was shot down over Budapest, Hungary in the fall of 1944. Holmes, prisoner number 7026, was sent to Stalag Luft #4 near Keifhede, Germany. Holmes would spend 10 months and 21 days as a POW.

After a few weeks in the camp, Holmes started keeping a diary. He used the inside papers from cigarette packages for writing. Pieces of hard fiber boxes from Red Cross packages cut to size became the covers and he was able to use scraps of metal for bindings. The result was that he made 3 inch by 5 inch books that remained intact and legible. In an interview in 1990, Holmes shared some of his diary entries.

His entry for November 27, 1944 told of Thanksgiving plans. “We saved some of our Red Cross food. We each contributed six crackers, two squares of chocolate, ¼ box of raisins, and five spoons of powdered milk.” (The saved items were going to be used in a special treat for Thanksgiving.)

November 28, 1944: “I looked in a mirror and looked old. I overloaded my system. I added a half can of corned beef to my cupful of spuds.”

November 29, 1944: “Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I got a Bible from the American Bible Society, I hope they do not take it away from me. Tomorrow we will have the pudding we have been saving up for.”

November 30, 1944 (Thanksgiving Day): “Started my Bible today and read two chapters. Last night the boys made up the pudding in two wash basins. Guess they will mix good with the toe jam. Everyone had fun making it (the pudding). I saw Herky and Parsons today. They gave me a bit of cake they made. It’s good here, but we would only laugh at them back at the States. Guess I will give them some of mine today. Four big German officials were here today. Don’t know what it was all about. Hope we don’t ever have to leave here until the war is over. Hope my wife and our folks are enjoying Thanksgiving Day today.

December 1, 1944: “Some guys couldn’t stand prosperity. They got Red Cross parcels and filled themselves too full. One ‘throwed up’ in the barracks.”

The men had only a few things for their Thanksgiving meal, but were thankful for what they had, and they shared with each other. In our prosperous time, it is hard to think about being thankful for a pudding made of crackers, chocolate, raisins and powdered milk.

Holmes continued to write in his diary and on April 27, 1945, he wrote: “I am once again a free man. No guards here (they are now POWs instead of us). We are in an ex-Jerry camp. We expect to fly out of here for France any hour. It will be a day or two, but I don’t mind. Life is grand, even if we are all dirty, filthy, and weak. I will write more tomorrow.”

The POWs went to France, then Southampton, England where they were loaded onto ships and convoyed to the United States. Holmes went to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas. He was given a three week furlough to visit his wife and family in his hometown of Carthage, Texas. After some time in a hospital to recuperate, he was discharged. They made a home in Carthage until 1949 when he moved to Orange to work for a relative that owned an auto dealership. Eventually, he became the owner of his own car lot located on Highway 87.

James Holmes and the other men and women who endured World War II and the conditions they fought under and lived with truly deserve to be called “The Greatest Generation”, we should give thanks every day for what they did then so we can live the way we do now.

“And now you know”