Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Frank Funk Vs. the Nazis

 A picture someone posted of Allies storming the beaches of Normandy tonight reminded me of my own dad's World War II experiences. He didn't talk about it much, but he spent time in a German POW camp, and saw the actual, historical Nazis close up.

(Any typos or mispelling are from the quoted source.)

Frank Funk: As a World War II combat vet, I decided I would go [to a class on World War II]. And what was interesting to me is that while I had experiences during World War II, but I had a narrow view of a war, because of my own experiences., flying out of Italy in a B17 bomber as a navigator. But Wilbur's course gave me more of a global sense of that total war, including the Pacific as well as European war and all that.

I flew out of Foggia, which is north of Naples, as I say, in a B17 bomber. After three missions, I think, our plane went down in Czechoslovakia. We were captured by the old guard and taken to prison.
They took us to an interrogation camp where they tried to squeeze what they can out of you. It was an interesting experience, because they understand, if you get isolated and nobody talks to you, then you can play the good cop, bad cop. Bad cop suggests you might leave feet first. And good cop says, "For you, da var is over. Ve is flyers together. Ve understand these things, und have a zigaretten." And I said, "No thank you." 

So an interrogation camp, and then to an officers' camp. See, under the Geneva Convention, officers were not supposed to have to work, whereas enlisted me had to be in work camps. And so I was in Stalag Luft I north, about 60 miles from Sweden, north of Berlin, for seven months I think, seven or eight month. We eventually were liberated by the Russians, believe it or not, and they were very unhappy with us, because our high command had decided that the would keep us locked in, because if they let us scurry around the countryside, people would get in trouble, easily. We were half starved, and if you overate, you could actually die from acute gastritis and stuff. 

Anyway, I'm coming up to my favorite World War II story. So we were finally, after drinking vodka with the Russian high command and radioing frantically to France, we were flown out from a nearby airport to Marseilles in France. So here we are, ex Krieg Gefangeners, was the German name. Krieg for war, war prisoners, on a chow line, watching German POWs go through the line with their trays piled high with food, and we'd eaten sawdust bread and scooped maggots of the top of stew and so on. So that was not a very good thing for us to see, but we had tried to understand. And there was a commotion at the end of the chow line. You could tell from retinue that somebody important was coming along. By gum, it was Ike Eisenhower.

Yeah, we were in Marseilles, on a chow line, ready to be shipped out. And usually, by boat, which gave them a chance to fatten us up on the way over to the States. Anyway, the story goes like this. We noticed this commotion, and here comes Ike Eisenhower and a whole retinue of people with him. And he stopped and it sounds like I'm making this up, but I swear, I'm not. He stopped the guy next to me and he said, "Where are you from, son?" 
And the guy said, "Kansas, sir." 

"Oh, the hell you are. You know, I'm from Kansas too," and they both laughed. And he says, "Got a question to ask you," says Ike. "Would you rather go home quickly, or in style?" 

And this kid, without missing a beat, said, "Both, sir." And he laughed and moved on. And that's a wonderful memory of a world renowned figure and humanizing. And he was that way with the troops, and it was genuine. You know, it wasn't phony. "Oh, the hell you are. I'm from Kansas." You know, it was like-- it made him very human and special. That's my World War II story.

We had a quick home visit and then went to a convalescent hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. And they had ex prisoners of war go there. They thought that we might have post traumatic stress syndrome. And so they gave us what is called truth serum, to have us talk about horrible things that happened and so on. Well I read recently, that don't assume that everybody has automatically post traumatic syndrome. I don't think I had a lot of it. I saw a guy get shot through the window, because we weren't supposed to be near the windows during an air raid. And somebody was drawing his picture and wanted him near the window for light. I saw a guy get shot because he went after a ball, and he thought the guard had nodded to say, yes you can get it, and the guard didn't. So, you know, and we were starving and all kinds of things. And we were shot at, as we went over targets and saw planes go down and so on. But anyway, then we talked earlier. We came back and got the GI Bill. I'd gotten out of high school in 1940, and you could tell the war was coming. You know, the march into Poland and all kinds of things. And Britain was in it early and so on. So I was saving money to go to college. Nobody else in my family had gone to college. I have four sisters.

So I didn't go to college. I went to work for a valves company and did all kinds of other things. Eventually, after Pearl Harbor, all young men wanted to get into the service, and most of us wanted to be a hot pilot [makes engine noise]. I went to get a physical and was rejected because of a deviated septum. I went and got it operated on and went back the same day. And I remember the doctor looked at me and pulled the cotton out and said, "I can't even see, but I can tell you've had an operation done on your nose. Accepted." And then you went to basic training, Atlantic City, then to a classification center in Nashville, where you had all kinds of tests. Then you'd go to the bulletin board, and if your name was on it in the right way, you'd go to an officer's school. If it wasn't you'd go to a gunnery school and be a noncom, or an enlisted man, a gunner. I evidently made it to navigation school at Monroe, Louisiana, and the government spent about $87,000 on each of us and taught us to navigate by the stars, celestial navigation, and then they sent us to Europe. And my sextant to do the star sighting was in a polished wooden box at the corner of my muddy tent in Italy. But if they needed to, they could have sent me the Pacific, you see. So that's the way it was.

After the war, I used-- yeah, I went back to Syracuse. Oh, I forgot. When I first got in the service, as so many men were going in soon after Pearl Harbor that the classification center was jammed. So what they did was to send you to a campus in a college training detachment, and I went to Syracuse University. And so, I wanted to go, I knew it, and it was a beautiful city, and I wanted to go back to it, and I did. And eventually, you know, got my undergraduate degree there, on the GI bill. Went to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as an instructor, working on a master's. Finished my master's, went to Purdue University to get my doctorate in 1955.

End quote.

Yes, it was a different time, but the same Nazi regime that imprisoned my dad also killed millions of Jews, gays and others for the crime of merely existing. The Nazis of yesteryear are now being emulated by twenty-somethings and others who carried Nazi flags, torches and guns in Charlottesville last weekend. Anyone who marched and chanted with such people, some carrying Confederate battle flags, some not, is allying himself or herself with evil. Anyone who equates the counter-protesters (many of them clergy, many of them trying to help and protect others, very few of them violent in any way) with armed and violent neo-Nazis and their allies as "equally to blame" for what happened in Charlottesville is giving aid and comfort to the forces of hatred and oppression.