Porter Stevens, American POW at Dachau


WWII vet was POW at Dachau

By Ron Simon · Telegraph-Forum staff · January 26, 2009

ASHLAND -- The array of medals Porter Stevens earned during World War II
include Bronze and Silver Stars, a Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry

There is no medal to commemorate his 11-month survival as a German
prisoner of war. Nothing to signify that last month of the war he spent
in Dachau, a concentration camp near Munich.

"It was awful. I saw them (German guards) take people in a room and shut
the doors," the Ashland man said. "When they opened the doors everybody
inside the room was dead. The walls were red from the blood."

Stevens, now 83, was one of eight American POWs who wound up in Dachau.
"I remember the back door. There was a rail line that came into the camp
through that back door," Stevens said. "I saw them unload bodies from
the cars and bury them in a ditch alongside the tracks."

"Most of the inmates were Jews or Polish. We stuck by one Polish boy who
could speak English. He kept asking us when the Americans would liberate
the camp."

When the Americans did come, Stevens weighed just 98 pounds and could
barely keep any food down.

He remembers the anger American soldiers felt when they saw what had
happened at Dachau.

"They rounded up guards and lined them up," Stevens said. "I think they
were going to load them on trucks, but somebody gave the order to fire."
Which is the point at which Stevens stops talking about Dachau, except
to wish now and then he could contact some of the veterans who helped
liberate that death camp.

Stevens said he was interviewed by Army lawyers and filled out lots of
paperwork concerning Dachau, but that nothing ever came of it.

"A lot of people denied there was ever anything like Dachau. Some of my
neighbors in California were like that after the war," Stevens said.
"They just didn't want to believe anything that awful could ever happen."
A native of Findlay, Stevens lived for a short time in California with
his sister before the war. He never finished high school and admits he
lied about his age to get into the service in 1943.

"I was thinking about that nice uniform and about going overseas and
seeing a new part of the world. I never thought about getting shot at.
"I got sworn in and within 10 minutes I was on a bus headed for Camp
Atterbury, Indiana."

Trained as an infantry rifleman, Stevens volunteered for airborne but
broke two fingers on his first parachute jump.

So it was back to infantry, where he carried a heavy Browning automatic

Not long after D-Day, PFC Stevens, a member of 7th Infantry Battalion of
the Third Infantry Division, landed in France. He stepped off the edge
of his landing craft into deep water and nearly drowned because of the
weight of all the ammunition he was carrying.


From that point on he said it was a long fight.
"The hedgerows were the worst," Stevens said. "There was always somebody
in there firing at you, and all you could do was strafe the hedge as
much as you could."

While he never met his commanding general, George S. Patton, Stevens
remembers seeing the general several times.

"He was stocky with broad shoulders. That pistol he carried on his hip
made him look like an old cowboy," Stevens said. "He didn't give orders.
He made demands. He was a rough old boy."

Stevens earned his Purple Heart when he took shrapnel in his left arm
and hand in Belgium.

In the same way, he earned two battle stars, one Bronze and one Silver.
Then, one day, he and his buddies ran into a German ambush.

"I was firing back with my BAR and had used up seven or eight magazines
of ammunition when I felt something poking my back. It was a German
soldier with his rifle pointed right at me," Stevens said.

With his boots taken away, Stevens was marched barefoot into captivity.
"We traveled by train and were strafed three times by our own planes,"
he said.

At Hammelburg he was put into Stalag 13, where conditions were "Bad!
Real Bad!"

"The commanding officer there was a mean son of a gun. He had a dog and
we used to dream about killing that mutt and eating it," Stevens said.
"All we had was soup that I think was just hot water and bugs."

One day the dog disappeared and the commander offered to kill several
POWs on the spot if the dog were not found and returned to him unharmed.
"They found the dog in a slit trench (latrine) and the commandant had
the dog cleaned up with our soup and then made us eat the soup," Stevens

After two months, Stevens was sent to another camp, where he tried to

"I got as far as a river and found a boat but they found me," he said.
"They worked me over good for a couple weeks. They would put a kettle
over my head and beat on it until I passed out.''

But the worst was yet to come when Stevens wound up in Dachau.
"I remember one of our stops was at a big stadium where somebody who
looked like Hitler addressed us. At least he looked like Hitler to me,"
he said. "When we were finally liberated it was just hard to believe.
The first thing they wanted us to do was take a bath and then to eat.
"But all food was too rich for us and we got sick."

Stevens underwent a long recuperation at Camp Lucky Strike in France and
then at various camps in the United States. He didn't get out of the
army until mid-1947 with a medical discharge.

As a civilian, he came to Ashland, where he married his wife, Ruby, who
was from Loudonville. They've been together more than 60 years.
They had two sons, Michael, who lives in Seville, and Mark who is
deceased. There are two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The Stevens also lived in Southern California, where he worked as a
maintenance electrician for Litton Industries for 30 years.
"Ruby never liked California. When I retired she decided it was time we
came home," Stevens said.


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