Corporal Zephanaih “Creed” Musser, United States Army, WW II, Prisoner of War

This story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.

Zephaniah “Creed” Musser was born on August 27, 1916; smack dab in the middle of WW I. Unfortunately, today we all know “The War to End All Wars.” certainly wasn’t a proper slogan for that conflict. And Creed knows that fact more than most.

     

His childhood was spent with his two younger brothers and sister on the family farm on Rt. 37 near Buckeye Lake, Ohio. It was as one might imagine in those days, sun up to sun down work. The fields were plowed using a horse. They had cows to milk; cattle, hogs and chickens to feed; and crops to plant and harvest.  Creed and his siblings attended a one room school where a single teacher taught eight grades. (The schoolhouse is still standing today.) He was nine years old when The Great Depression struck, and Ohio was still feeling its effects when he graduated from Lancaster High School in 1938. Jobs were extremely scarce. He was lucky enough, however, to have an uncle who was a bank president pull a few strings and get him a job with Anchor Hocking. A manufacturer of glass products, it was Lancaster’s largest employer. Creed went to work there selecting and packaging glassware for shipment.

 

On March 9, 1943, Creed was drafted into the Army and sent to Ft. Hayes in Columbus for his physical exam and processing. He passed everything and was put on a train at Union Station destined for basic training with the 78th Infantry Division at Camp Butler, NC. Things were so grim for our troops at that time that (because of a shortage of guns) they trained for a period using broomsticks for weapons. Following Christmas leave, the 78th deployed to the Tennessee Maneuver Area on 25 January 1944, where they participated in the fifth group of 2nd  Army Tennessee Maneuvers.  The War Department had decided to conduct field maneuvers and large scale war games in Middle Tennessee in an area around Camp Forrest, near Tullahoma. The Army, perceiving in the Cumberland River and the hilly country to the south and north a similarity to the Rhine and Western Europe, decided to send divisions into the state for their last preparation before actual combat. Between September 1942 and March 1944 nearly one million soldiers passed through the Tennessee Maneuvers area. It was extremely realistic training for what these troops would experience in Europe.

Creed next moved with the 78th to Camp Pickett, Virginia, where they filled their TO&E.  The “Table of Organization and Equipment” is a document published by the DOD which prescribes the organization, staffing, and equipage of units.  It also provides information on the mission and capabilities of a unit as well as the unit's current status. A general TO&E is applicable to a type of unit (for instance, Infantry) rather than a specific unit (the 3rd Infantry Division). In this way, all units of the same branch (such as Infantry) follow the same structural guidelines.

On October 4, 1944, the 78th deployed to the staging area at Camp Kilmer, NJ, in final preparation for their departure to Europe. Most of the 78th Division embarked from the New York City POE on October 14th, arriving at South Hampton England on 26 October 1944 for additional training. On 22 November they crossed the English Channel into France. For some unknown reason, a couple hundred of the soldiers still assigned to the 78th, including Creed, went directly from Tennessee to NYC and departed on 13 May 1944, arriving in the United Kingdom on 24 May 1944. After a brief stay for final combat training and equipping at Wind Whistle Hill in England (home of Lord Nelson,) Private Musser and his fellow troops departed South Hampton for the crossing into France, landing at Omaha Beach only a few days after D-Day. The crossing was aboard a British ship, and the soldiers climbed down rope ladders into the Higgins landing craft for the ride to the beachhead.

The 78th Infantry Division was a planned replacement for the casualties suffered on D-Day, and they were well-trained for the combat they would face in the coming months. What Creed and others weren’t prepared for, however, was the carnage they would witness from the time they waded ashore from their landing craft on the French beach. The bodies were still everywhere he went these next few weeks, something he’ll always remember. American GI corpses piled on the beach, paratroopers dead and hanging from trees, French and German bodies all along his route… Upon reaching the summit of the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach, Creed and his fellow soldiers were escorted to a nearby farm where they were met by an American colonel who asked about Creed’s training. The colonel promptly told him that he was now assigned to the 79th Division to replace a runner who had been killed two days earlier.

For nearly six months, that’s what Creed did. He literally ran from unit to unit within the 79th, passing battle plans, messages and passwords.  Following circuitous routing across the country with constant combat, Creed and the 314th Regiment covered much of the northern half of France. After making it as far north as the western border of Belgium, they turned back south as far as Strasburg, only to head north once again to Aachen, Germany.  Creed says he never rode in a jeep, tank, truck or train. That would be an incredible hike even in peacetime, but to do it while involved in combat is truly extraordinary. And along this journey Creed often witnessed fellow troops being killed and wounded right next to him. They were always in the thick of combat.

On December 27th, in the very midst of the Battle of the Bulge, Creed was in the small town of Drusenheim, about a half mile from the Rhine River. His unit had been downsized, as many troops had been transferred to assist with the bloody battle at Bastogne. Nazi troops surrounded Creed’s village, killing or capturing everyone. Seeing Nazi tanks approaching, Creed managed to escape and hide under a pile of coal in the basement of a church. After remaining there for three days, all alone and with no food or water, he decided he had to move. So he filled his helmet with coal and pieces of wood and boldly walked up the stairs and out into a street full of German soldiers. He thought, being totally covered with the black soot of the coal, he had a chance to freely pass. He didn’t get far before he was captured.

The German soldiers took his watch, ring, and anything else of value before taking him to a Nazi officer who spoke fluent English. Not only did the officer feed Creed, Creed remained with the officer and his troops for the next three days. He slept on the floor with them and shared the same rations the Germans had. Never was he tied up or abused in any way. Then he was transported to his first prison camp.

Creed remembers crossing the Rhine on a raft pulled across by hand with a rope, because the bridge had been destroyed. He was taken by jeep for a ways and then he and one guard walked in knee-deep snow the last two or three miles to Baden Baden, his first POW camp. As the gate to the camp opened, Creed was shocked to see Germans carrying a body across the road to a cemetery. Was this what was in store for him?

For nearly all of his six months as a POW, Creed worked repairing bombed out railroad tracks and digging buried bodies from bombed out buildings. Waking up at 4 every morning and working until dark, the POWs slept on the floors of buildings which usually weren’t heated. Daily meals generally consisted of two cups of broth that “they pulled a piece of meat through with a string,” two pieces of stale bread, and two cups of coffee. Creed recalls with a smile that occasionally school kids would throw apples at the POWs marching past, and those barrages provided the starving men with a special treat.

The winter of 1944/45 was the most brutal for this region in decades, with sub-freezing temperatures and frequent snowstorms. And, of course, the POWs were not provided proper clothing, boots, or blankets. Many did not survive, and those who did suffered serious medical problems. Soon after his imprisonment at Baden Baden, Creed froze both his feet, was treated by a German doctor, and sent back to work after only three days of recuperation. Over the years, he has had surgeries on them several times; and, to this day, all his toes are oddly curled, which requires him to wear special shoes.

After his stay at Baden Baden, Pvt Musser and others were marched to where railroad work was needed more desperately: to Stuttgart, Munich, and finally to a POW camp at Markt Pongau, Austria. Although the locations may have changed, the living conditions, food, and work details remained pretty much constant. The American POWs continued their forced labor, suffering and perishing from their treatment.

May 9th, 1945, was to be different; and Creed fondly remembers the details of that morning even today. Usually aroused at 4AM to be marched off to their work details, it was probably close to 9 AM when the POWS noticed that there was no guard on duty. They had not been awakened to stand roll call, as was the norm. And, strangest of all, the front gate to the POW camp was wide open. Then an American jeep arrived, and a colonel yelled out, “Anyone from Ohio?” Creed later learned that the colonel driving the jeep was also from Lancaster.

The prisoners were told that they had been liberated but to stay put until they could be transported. They were told to eat when and where they were told, lest they become seriously ill after such meager rations for months. (During his 4½ months as a prisoner, Creed’s weight dropped from 145 pounds to 91 pounds.) Within a few days, trucks picked the men up and transported them to Salzburg from where they were flown to Camp Lucky Strike.

 Memoirs from a Red Cross worker there at the time included,    "When American prisoners of war (POWs) started to stream out of Germany, the several camps situated on the Normandy coast near Le Havre, and which had originally been used as staging areas, were now used to take care of the American prisoners of war until they could be sent home. The camps were named after popular cigarettes of the day. Our field hospital was called in to set up at Camp Lucky Strike to handle the massive number of liberated POWs coming out of Germany. Our exact location was at San Riquie en Caux."
   "Large trucks would arrive at the camp regularly, full of jubilant GIs dressed in all sorts of motley clothes, half-'Jerry' (German) and half-American. We took those soldiers who were ill to the hospital. There were many emaciated soldiers who had been caught in the Battle of the Bulge the previous December. The Germans did not know what to do with them as they were in full retreat after January 1945, so they marched them back and forth from place to place, and fed them very little as there was little food to be had. Prisoners captured earlier were better off, but all of ours were sad to see. However, their spirits improved once they arrived at Lucky Strike, since they knew they would soon be going home."

Finally, after 4½ months, Pvt Musser was able to clean up and put on some clean clothes. One can only imagine what they looked like when they first arrived at Camp Lucky Strike. The troops had good food, recreational facilities and a pleasant climate while waiting for their ships to take them back to New York City. And soon Creed was aboard one of them, eager to return to the U.S.

Creed remembers passing the Statue of Liberty as they entered New York harbor. His ship was flying a POW flag, and its whistle was blowing to alert the welcoming crowd that thronged the pier to greet America’s returning heroes. The reception was extraordinary.

After a very brief stay in NYC, Creed was sent by train to Columbus, where he was picked up by his brother at Union Station and taken home to Lancaster. There he had two memorable weeks with his family before being shipped down to Miami Beach where he joined countless other former POWs being boarded in a Hilton hotel. The veterans’ month there was partly R & R and partly evaluation of the POWs’ health and well-being before transferring them to new duty stations after proving their fitness. Creed was deemed fit for continued service.

Creed’s next train ride and final assignment in the U.S. Army was to Camp Joseph T. Robinson just outside of North Little Rock, Arkansas. It had been a basic training facility early in the war and was then converted to a facility to house German POWs. Corporal Musser was a mail clerk for about eight months before being honorably discharged from the Army there on 12 May 1945.

 While he was serving, Creed’s mother displayed a Blue Star Service Flag with four stars in their home. Creed’s younger brothers, Andrew and John, both served in the European theater during WW II, and their sister’s husband was also deployed in the military during the war.

Upon returning to Lancaster, Creed once again returned to work at Anchor Hocking. Soon he was in the production end of glass manufacturing, an hourly employee who later was selected to be union steward. For the remainder of his career in the plant, he was very active with the union as a member of the strike committee and negotiating committee. He was also quite involved with Lancaster community affairs and various civic and veterans’ organizations. He traveled the state and country attending the POW reunions and union conventions. Still, for a period, he found time to teach dancing – the rumba, the cha cha, ballroom, and even square dancing. He has always enjoyed gardening and had huge gardens every year since his discharge from the Army. Growing far more than he could ever eat, Creed always enjoyed sharing his vegetables with friends, neighbors, civic groups, and the needy.

 In June of 1961 Creed married Eva M. Sanders, and they spent their honeymoon attending an Anchor Hocking union convention in New York City. As luck would have it, there was a city-wide power outage the evening of the big banquet; and the elevators were without electricity. Creed was forced to walk up 23 flights of stairs to fetch his new wife from their room and then walk back down again with her to the first floor ballroom in order to attend the banquet dinner, which was held by candle light.

The following year, Eva gave birth to their only daughter, Tia. The Musser family loved to travel, and over the years they toured the entire United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. Sometimes the vacations were centered around a POW convention or reunion, but many other trips were simply because the family truly enjoyed traveling together. Creed and Eva were popular in Lancaster and were active in numerous organizations including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. They especially loved the state and county fairs. One event that Creed fondly recalls was the annual dinner gathering at the Motts home on Ebright Road where former POWs could meet, eat, and tell their stories to an interested host and hostess.

Eva passed away in 2002, and Creed continues to live alone in their home in Lancaster. One of Tia’s two sons has married and given Creed his first great grand-daughter. This closely knit family continues to attend fairs, parades, and events together, and Creed is obviously proud of his progeny. Tia, her sons, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter are the joys of Creed’s life; and he truly gets a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face when he talks about them.

Approaching his 94th birthday and in the final stages of mending from a broken hip, Creed Musser is not as mobile or active as he once was, but he is still attending community events. He looks forward to the Friday night fish fries at the Legion. We believe that we’ll soon be seeing more of him around our museum. He loves not only our facility but also Warren and Daisy very much. He knows that they are among the few keeping his legacy and our military history alive for future generations. The respect is mutual, and we are honored to have Creed Musser as a member and as a friend of Motts Military Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is unbelievable what men like Creed went through as POWs. And that the colonel who liberated him was from the same town! I grew up in Lancaster too, and knew many people who worked at Anchor Hocking....which is still there thankfully.
What a small world.

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