Woodbury County

S/Sgt. Harold E. Robinson




Harold E. “Plush” Robinson
U.S. Army Air Force
Staff Sergeant    

Harold E. “Plush” Robinson, the son of Wallace and Beulah Robinson, was born in Lawton, Iowa, on January 29, 1924.  He had 11 siblings, Hattie Jones, Marjorie “Sarge” Nichols, Jeanne Jones, Florence Boetger, Dale Robinson, Joanne Gunsolley, Duane Robinson, Bedford “Bep” Robinson, and Beverly “Pert” Degen.  Two sisters, Lois and Shirley Robinson, died at early ages.  He graduated from Lawton high school in 1941.  Harold worked for a local farmer for two years before being drafted and entering the U. S. Army  Air Force on April 15, 1943.

Shortly after receiving his draft notice, he was loaded on a bus in Sioux City at about 11:00 at night.  He rode all night and arrived in Des Moines just as the sun came up.  After being fed some breakfast, he spent the morning parading in front of doctors being poked, pinched and glared at.  Harold was sworn in shortly after 12:00 p.m. on April 8, 1943, and spent the rest of the afternoon exchanging civilian clothes for a new uniform.

Harold had to travel the country for his training.  He went to Miami Beach for his basic training, Denver for armament school, back to Florida for gunnery school, then to Salt Lake City where he was assigned a bomber crew, and took combat training in Colorado Springs.

He trained as a ball turret gunner in a B-24, a 10-member bomber that was often called the “Liberator.”  This position usually required a smaller man.  At the time, he stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed 130 pounds.  As a ball turret gunner, he would shoot and bomb targets from the turret of the plane, a cramped area beneath the belly of the vessel.  He was often exposed to enemy fire and the elements.  It was always 40 to 50 degrees below zero while flying at 30,000 feet.

Harold believed there were 2 advantages to being in that position, which was being in the shade all of the time and making $172.80 per month, which is the most an enlisted man could make at that time.

One year later, he would be stationed in Leece, Italy, as part of the 98th Bomb Group.  His first bombing mission was on May 5, 1944.  The missions, which took anywhere from 6-10 hours, usually involved bombing oil fields, bridges and factories in various parts of Italy, Austria, Germany and France.  The Air Force flew by day as the British handled night-time raids.

On his 36th mission, Harold’s plane was hit hard over Italy.  The pilot crash-landed the plane in Italy and the crew ran four miles to safety.  He believed that would be his closest encounter with the enemy.  Harold only had 14 missions until his 50th and then he would be able to go home.  But that wouldn’t happen.

On August 22, 1944, he flew his 46th combat mission.  The target was an aircraft factory in a suburb of Vienna, Austria.  Once again they were hit hard.  Ground fire would strike the B-24 in the left wing and the bomb bay.  The two left engines were taken out and strikes to the bomb bay created a gas leak, which soon ignited flames.  Harold headed out of the turret to help two other gunners extinguish the fire while the pilot struggled to get the aircraft under control.  The fire extinguishers would eventually empty.  So the crew would soon bail out near Budapest.

Harold and his crew mates landed in a field where locals were shocking wheat.  The locals would gather the men up and take them into the village.  They would be put on display in the jail and all day long the people would walk past them saying things like, “Terror Fliers!” Occasionally a local would spit at them.

Eventually the men were taken by train to Stalag Luft IV in northern Poland. The camp for airmen held 10,000 enlisted men.  Harold lived with 23 other soldiers in a small barrack that would become his home for many months.  Each morning they read a German newspaper and each night they secretly listened to radio reports from the BBC.  During the day men played cards, baseball and football.  Many of them took classes that ranged from woodworking to music.  The classroom instruction and athletics helped pass the time.  Eventually, they figured, the amp would be liberated by either U.S. soldiers or the Russian Army.

On February 6, 1945, the Russians made a move and camp officials prepared the prisoners for evacuation.  Harold stayed out on an anticipated three-day march for the evacuation but ended up being 86 days across Germany in the hardest and coldest winter they’d ever had.  He would go on to walk for more than 500 miles.

Six thousand POW’s started the march but only 2500 men would live to see their liberation.  The men started the march with eight pounds of food from the Red Cross.  Harold would soon learn that he would need to steal the rest of his food, which included eggs, rabbits and vegetables.

He had befriended a soldier from Florida during the march.  To keep warm they slept together during the winter nights.  One of them would put a blanket on the ground and then they wrapped themselves in the other blanket.  Often they were left to sleep in open snow-covered fields.

Finally, on April 28, 1945, they would be freed.  Harold heard a commotion up at the front and stepped to the outside of the column.  He saw an American jeep with a 10-foot staff atop which the American flag was flying.  An American corporal was standing on the jeep.

Harold would return home to Lawton, Iowa, just after July 4, 1945.  He attended diesel mechanics school using the GI bill and in 1948 he opened Plush’s Service until his retirement in 1993.

He married Adeline Rasmussen on December 1, 1947, in Sioux City at the First Lutheran Church.  For most of their married life they made their home in Lawton.  They have one daughter, Shirley Ehlers, and 3 grandchildren, Loren, Lori (Collins), and Lisa.

Harold would be come active in the community which included serving as mayor and council member, dancing with the Dancing Grannys and Grandpas, and being a long-time supporter of the Lawton / Lawton-Bronson schools.

He would also become a member of the American Ex-POW organization, American Legion Post 718 in Lawton, and the VFW in Sioux City.  He attended the 98th Bomb Group reunions and the Ex-POW national and state conventions.

It would take Harold almost 40 years to talk about his war experiences.  After many years of silence, he decided to tell his story.  He would go all over the region talking to schools and organizations. 

Harold passed away on August 23, 2002, in Sioux City, Iowa.  He is buried in Banner Township Cemetery in Lawton, Iowa.

Harold was a very patriotic man.  Every time the Star Spangled Banner would play or the American flag would pass by, he would always stand straight as he could and memories of his liberation would flash through his mind.  He kept reminding his family to appreciate this great country that we live in and to always respect the American flag.

The American flag would always bring back the emotions of his liberation. Harold said, “…when I see the flag, I think of that long line of POWS saluting that American flag.”

Source: Bio story submitted by his wife

More submitted by his wife:

Harold E. “Plush” Robinson
German Prisoner of War #7575

Harold E. “Plush” Robinson served in the 15th Air Force, 98th Bomb Group and 344th Bomb Squadron during World War II. He flew in a B-24 Liberator as a ball turret gunner. His crew would be shot down on the 36th and 46th mission. Harold would be captured on his 46th mission and sent to Stalag Luft IV near the Baltic Sea.

On August 22, 1944, Harold’s story as a Prisoner of War would begin and he wrote:

I was stationed at an airfield down in the heel of Italy. I was awakened about 4:30 a.m. Got dressed and proceeded to breakfast where I could have a fresh egg if I paid the cook a dime. From breakfast we proceeded to the briefing room. When the curtain was pulled back the string stretched all the way from our base to Vienna, Austria. I considered Vienna the second toughest target in Europe. The toughest was the Ploesti Oil Fields. I was over them seven times and this would be my third time to Vienna. Take off and the trip to the targets was routine. Coming off the target we took a terrific pounding. We took a direct hit in our left wing. It took out both engines on the left and set the plane on fire. We lost a lot of altitude and had to leave the information. We did manage to get all the fire out. We managed to fly on for about twenty minutes when we were hit by German fighters and the whole plane was on fire again. We had emptied our extinguishers on the first fire so there was nothing left to do but leave. I always wondered if I would have the nerve to jump if the time ever came. I can assure you that I was plenty happy to leave that day. I made my first and last parachute jump that day.

I landed in a large wheat field. The people from the local village were cutting the wheat. The men had these huge cradles and the women were gathering the wheat tying it in bundles and shocking it. We were all captured immediately. They chained us two by two and walked us into the local village which was about two miles. They took us into the waiting room of the railroad depot. I am sure that is the only room in town they had to hold us in.

It was 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon and we were hungry.

They went to the village and got a lady who happened to live in Ohio for many years. She Had come back (to Hungary) and was caught up in the war. She had them bring black bread and apples for us to eat. I didn’t care for the bread but did eat a couple of the apples.

After a couple of days with the village people going by us and spitting on us they put us on a train to Budapest. It is Buda and Pest with the river running between the two cities. That is where the name Budapest comes from.

We were taken to the prison. I was separated from the rest of the crew. They took me down a long hall with a line of steel doors. They shoved me into a cell that was pitch Dark. They put a chalk mark on the door and closed it behind me. I found a mattress on the floor. I woke up and was covered by small bugs from the mattress. I never slept on the mattress again. The next morning, they brought me a bowl of hot water and black bread. The cell was approximately 6’x 10’ with a high ceiling and small window up near the ceiling. The only furniture was the mattress and a pail for a latrine. At noon they brought a bowl of soup with carrots, turnips and potatoes and for supper was a bowl of boiled potatoes.

They interrogated me for four days. They would give me a Lucky Strike cigarette. They asked me for information that I did not know. They interrogated me every other day. The German told me on the last day (of interrogation) he had been in Sioux City and was at the Martin Hotel. That day they let me go back to the rest of my crew that were being held in a room all together.

The next day they put us on a train which took several days to get to Grossttychow about 30 miles from the Baltic Sea We walked about two miles to Stalag Luft IV. To describe the camp, it had two 10-foot fences and a warning rail and guard towers on the corners. It had four compounds and Var Lager. A typical compound had ten barracks, two latrines, one wash room and one kitchen. One barracks was of Russians. Var Lager had two warehouses, two barracks and an office.

A typical day started with roll call before the breakfast meal and then another roll call before supper. Then lock up One person went for the food and each took turns.

The Red Cross Parcel consisted of Corned Beef, Spam, Klim, Oleo, Salmon, Raisins or prunes, Liver pate, Biscuits (crackers), Cheese, Sugar Cubes, “D” Bar, Orange (Conc.), Soap and Cigarettes. There were eight cans and they had to be turned in by evening. The soldiers asked why and they (Germans) said you Americans will make an airplane and fly out of here.

We played sports – football, softball and had tournaments. The football was made from sewing leather and stuffing with rags. The softball was made by using tongues out of shoes and unraveling a sweater to make a ball. We made playing cards from cardboard. Played checkers by drawing a checkerboard on the table and taking buttons from the shirts. We also had music and a choir.

For religious needs we had two Padres, a Priest and a hymnals from the YMCA.

The guards were “Big Stoop” and “Green Hornet.” I was sharpening my knife and the guard hit me on my ear and broke my ear drum.

Someone in the compound wired the light switch one day and one of the guards was electrocuted that evening when the lights were turned off.

They (Germans) liked to turn the dogs in the rooms. You wanted to get up high. Everyone would get up on the top bunks, so they couldn’t reach us.

We had a radio in one of the barracks. The soldiers got a radio from a guard in turn for him not getting in trouble with something he had done. The soldiers had hollowed out the beam and took the radio apart and put it in the beam. Then put the front back on the beam, so it couldn’t be seen. We would listen to the news on BBC and Tokyo. Then we would write it (the news) on a small piece of paper and hand it to different people to get the news to each barracks. If you were caught you are supposed to eat the small piece of paper, but I never had to eat the news when it was my turn.

One night the dog was turned in the Russian barracks and in a short while they opened the small opening in the door and shoved the hide out the door. They (Germans) never turned the dogs in the Russian barracks again.

We all had lice. They were the worst at night when you tried to sleep. They would start crawling.

Around January 15th, we could hear the artillery near the camp. We figured the Germans would evacuate us or wait for the Russians. We were prepared to walk. I had been saving my sugar for the walk. They called a meeting on February 5th and when they came back they said there would be no march. So, I ate my sugar. At 10 p.m. that night they came back and said we would march at 9 a.m. They evacuated us on February 6th. If you compare our march to the Bataan Death March, it was in the heat and lasted ten days and 70 miles. Ours was the Black Death March which lasted 86 days and 500+ miles. We marched in the severe cold of 34 degrees below zero, and snow on the ground. It was the coldest winter in Germany. As we walked out we were given one loaf of bread and a Red Cross Parcel. We lined up abreast and about 6000 men. We walked about 15 to 20 miles per day. The column was about 3 miles long. On the third day I met my friend Pete (Gains Redman) from Florida. He was nine years older than me. We slept in barns and at times the country folk did not want us in their barns. On February 14th we had walked about 30 miles and slept in a field. Pete and I put one blanket on the snowy ground and covered with the other to try to keep warm. It had been raining and snowing all day. They would not let us have and fires to get warm. We were always cold, hungry and lousy. Some of the men had blisters and diarrhea. We would be walked with just an overcoat. We would find potato hills in the fields and we would put them in our pockets. When he had a fire, we would put them in it and they would be charcoal. I am sure that by eating the charred potatoes it kept me from having diarrhea.

One day as we were walking in a town we stopped in front of a house where a lady went to the cupboard and took a loaf of bread and started to cut it. She went into another room. I saw the back door open and my friend Pete who had been standing beside me was in there and had the loaf of bread under his coat. The lady came back and looked for her bread. She couldn’t see any, so she went to the cupboard and got another loaf. When we left the town, we had bread that night. He caught a rabbit one evening and skinned it and roasted it in the fire.

On April 27th we saw tanks and were wondering what was going to happen. On the 28th day of April we were liberated. I could hear a commotion at the front of the column. Didn’t know if a guard was beating up on a prisoner or what. I was too short to look over, so I finally looked to see what was going on. I could not see a guard. I don’t know if my knees buckled or if I slipped. My friend caught me as I saw an American jeep with a Corporal standing on the hood. On the front bumper was a 10- foot staff with an American Flag. The Corporal said we were not free yet. We would have to walk another few miles to freedom. That was no problem, but as each prisoner came to the American Flag they brought their shoulders up and saluted the flag. Whenever I see the American Flag I think of the hungry, lousy and stinking prisoners—my buddies. We walked on to freedom.

We had to cross over a small foot bridge. The Germans were trying to take what little they had left and get across, but the bridge would not let them take their belongings across. They had all kinds of things left. Pete and I found a 5 gallon pail of lard and potatoes. That night we asked if we could have some of the boards off a large barn for fires. They didn’t know but the barn was all gone before long. Pete and I had potato chips all night.

A Corporal with the 104th Division was at the bridge as I crossed over and I recognized him from when we were in Colorado Springs. I asked if he would write my folks and tell them I was all right. I gave him my folks address as there was no way I could write.

Harold would eventually return to his hometown months later, where he became active in the community, serving as mayor and council member at one time. He ran Plush’s Service, a service station, automobile repair, tank wagon service and car wash until his retirement.

He married Adeline Rasmussen on December 1, 1947 in Sioux City at the First Lutheran Church. For most of their married life they made their home in Lawton. They have one daughter, Shirley Ehlers and 3 grandchildren, Loren Ehlers, Lori Collins and Lisa Ehlers.

Harold would stay in contact with some of his fellow prisoners, who would include Leonard Tygart and Gains “Pete” Redman. He would travel the United States and visit many of the men’s homes. He attended the 98th Bomb Group reunions and the Ex-POW national and state conventions.

It took him many years to be able to tell his story. Harold started talking about it to his family along with many organizations and schools after 40 years. He felt that people would forget the tremendous sacrifices the soldiers made during that bitter conflict.

Harold passed away on August 23, 2002 in Sioux City, Iowa. He is buried in Banner Township Cemetery in Lawton, Iowa.

The American flag would always bring back the emotions of his liberation. Harold said, “…when I see the flag, I think of that long line of POWS saluting that American flag.”

Provided by his wife