PFC Edwin T. Leibbrand, U.S. Army - Battle of the Bulge, POW at Nazi Stalag 98, Bad Orb

This story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.  I (Claudia) had the pleasure of spending some time with Eddie today, what a pleasure.  He remembers his POW experience in great detail, and is a weekly volunteer at Motts Military Museum.  You can find him there most any Wednesday afternoon, and he will be happy to talk with you. This picture shows Eddie standing in front of the several POW items he donated for display.  His story is very interesting.........

Those who visit our museum on a regular basis know that as soon as they enter they will be greeted at our front desk by a volunteer with a big smile and a warm welcome, eager to assist our guests in any way they can. All of our volunteers are here because they believe in our goals and want to be a part of our mission. Visitors who happen to visit us on a Wednesday afternoon will be met by 85-year-old Eddie Leibbrand, and he seems no different than the others. He will be genuinely happy to see you, and he’s very cordial and talkative. As with many of our volunteers, Eddie is a veteran who is literally a part of our museum and an amazing figure in the military history of the U.S.

     Edwin Thomas Leibbrand was born right here in Columbus on January 27, 1924; and, obviously, his childhood was spent during the great depression. Raised at 30 Jenkins Avenue, his father dug ditches for the WPA. Eddie had three sisters but lost an older brother who died at the age of six from diphtheria. Young Eddie attended schools in Columbus: Southwood Elementary (Southwood Avenue & 4th Street,) Barrett Junior High School (Deshler Avenue) and South High School (Thurman Avenue & Ann Street).

    During his high school years Eddie developed mastoiditus, a serious disease in those days caused by an untreated inner ear infection. As a result, he missed a year of high school. In 1943, on the 30th of January (3 days after his 19th birthday) Eddie was drafted right out of high school (which he never completed.) He was taken to 98 North High Street for a physical examination, a small facility above a jewelry store being used to handle the overflow from an overcrowded Ft. Hayes. During this series of medical tests, Eddie was disqualified because of a bad right eye. He had developed a problem with it as the result of a childhood bout with whooping cough. When he saw the final doctor at the end of the physical examination process, the doctor noted that he’d been rejected due to the eye problem. Instead of releasing Eddie, the doctor told him to get back in line and repeat the process. Of course, Eddie complied; and this time he passed the physical.

     Eddie was granted a month to get his affairs in order and then taken by train to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where he was inducted on March 1st and received a week of indoctrination. Next he was sent to Camp Walters, Texas (Mineral Wells) for basic training. During his six weeks there he was instructed in the specialty of machine gunner, specifically the Browning .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun. The weapon could fire 450 to 600 rounds per minute, and a typical magazine belt held 250 rounds. At the end of his training, his unit was deployed to Alaska; but due to a problem with his eye glasses, Eddie remained behind and was reassigned to Pennsylvania’s 110th Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division. He was sent with them to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for about a week in preparation for their deployment to Europe.

    Departing from Pier #90 in New York City on August 17, 1944, the 110th was aboard the Queen Elizabeth, a ship that could hold nearly 10,000 troops. Also aboard were Bing Crosby and 20 other musicians summoned to Europe by Glen Miller, who was in the Army stationed in England at the time. Crosby and his entourage put on a number of shows for the troops during their eight-day voyage across the Atlantic.

       Upon their arrival in England, Private Leibbrand and the other members were housed in Quonset buildings for several weeks while they were equipped and practiced for the combat situation they would face when they reached mainland Europe. Eddie received specific training to keep him current on maintaining and firing his water-cooled .30 caliber Browning machine gun. The troops of the 110th were ferried across the English Channel on Higgins Boats. Upon arrival at Le Havre that September, the 110th was again quartered in Quonset huts nearby for the next two weeks or so, where they were issued more equipment, received final training, and otherwise further prepared for battle.

       Eddie and his fellow troops then marched across France doing “cleanup duties” to rout any remaining Germans from their hiding places. They proudly participated in the liberation of Paris before continuing their fight across France and into Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.  One day they were transported by train back to a town in Belgium and posted in a “holding position.” The soldiers ate and slept in the homes of the town they had surrounded and fortified, and they rotated shifts to guard the place. Early in December 1944 a massive number of German tanks and troops had them completely surrounded and ferociously attacked. It was the first Nazi offensive of the Battle of the Bulge. More than 2700 men of the 110th were lost in three days and nights of fierce combat, while the 110th created an equal number of casualties among the Germans.

       While trying to regroup, the Americans asked a young German lad where the best place to rendezvous would be. Unbeknownst to them, this boy was apparently a Nazi sympathizer. His directions took them to a nearby field with a number of American tanks. Unfortunately for Eddie and his fellow soldiers, those tanks were disabled; and the field was enmeshed with hiding Nazi troops, who quickly surrounded the Americans and began mowing them down. Our guys who were still standing had no choice but to surrender. And they did. Eddie was captured on December 18, 1944.

        For a number of days, the captured Americans were marched by day, sleeping in schools and churches at night. They were given nothing to eat or drink, and the cold was unbearable.  The soldiers cuddled while sleeping in masses to share and preserve body heat. At one time Eddie recalls wondering why the 300 or so prisoners were continually marched in a huge circle through this one particular village. Later it was learned from a German newspaper that the Nazis had declared that they had captured more than 450,000 Allied troops; and by continually marching the prisoners past the same area, the Nazis hoped to convince the Belgians that, indeed, they had captured a substantial number and were winning the war. For the final four days of this trek, Eddie and his fellow prisoners were crammed into “40 & 8” railroad cars. These French railroad cars were so nicknamed because they were designed with the intent of carrying 40 men or 8 horses. Of course, the Germans crammed as many as 100 Prisoners of War (POWs) into each of these cars. Still no food or water. The cars remained locked, and the bathroom was a guy’s helmet, which was emptied through holes in the floor. The trains traveled at night to avoid being strafed by American planes. During the day, they simply parked in the freezing cold, with the Americans becoming weaker, ill, and even dying. At one stop, one of the soldiers managed to open the door to allow some fresh air into the car. A German guard promptly shot the POW in the head with his Luger and closed the door again. Eddie will tell you that he believes in the power of prayer. Even though it was too crowded to kneel, they all prayed together for some food. Within two or three hours, the prisoners were given some rations to sustain them.

      Finally, they arrived at their destination - Stalag 9B, at Bad Orb, Hessen, Germany - just northeast of Frankfort. History has recorded it as being the worst of all the Nazi POW camps, a virtual concentration camp that held low ranking captives from the U.S., England, Russia, Serbia, and France. The only three officers in the camp were two chaplains and a dentist. Everyone else was a private or PFC. When the men were liberated on April 2, 1945, there were 6000 prisoners released including 3364 Americans. The camp was extremely primitive. The men slept on straw mats infested with lice. There were no medical facilities at all, no sanitary services, no heat, and very little grass or potato soup. Showers were rare, and following one, the men had to dress once again in their same dirty clothing. Men died every day from dehydration, malnutrition, hypothermia, or a variety of illnesses. Eddie’s weight in the four months he was in Stalag IXB went from 160 pounds to 98 pounds. Such a weight loss (if one lived at all) was the norm. The conditions in this particular camp have been compared to those in the Jewish concentration camps. Being on top of a mountain with its resultant winds, the camp was extremely cold that winter . The POWs were never issued any clothing, and most arrived with only a field jacket. Very few had caps, gloves or overcoats.

     The International Red Cross continually sent packages to these prisoners of Stalag 9B, but only a few of them ever arrived. The packages were found hoarded in storage in Bad Orb following the POWs’ repatriation. One of those 12-pound packages was supposed to provide a man with all his needs for a week. Eddie only recalls one time when some Serbs brought a quarter of one of these packages for each man.

     On one occasion a German guard was killed. Everyone in the stalag was awakened in the middle of the night by storm troopers poking them in the butt with bayonets and forcing them outside into the freezing cold air and knee-high snow. Some had no shoes and very little clothing. They were told they would remain there until they told who had done the killing. The guards quickly found blood on one prisoner’s clothing, and the remainder were allowed back inside.   

     The POWs were continually forced to march down to the village of Bad Orb to cut and split firewood for the residents. Not usually being one to volunteer, at one point Eddie volunteered for a project just to do something different from the daily routine and horrific conditions of the camp. After spending the entire night out in the freezing cold digging graves for fellow POWs who had died, Eddie never volunteered again.     

     Another vivid memory of Eddie’s occurred just prior to the liberation of the POWs from Stalag 9B. While standing in the camp’s yard, a P-47 came streaking directly at him at extremely low level. Eddie could see right down the barrel of the .30 caliber machine gun and could plainly see the pilot’s face. Eddie thought he was dead! The plane zoomed away, its wings rocking. It seems the French prisoners spelled out “POW” on the ground in limestone where the pilot saw it at the last moment before strafing the camp.

     The tanks of Patton’s Army suddenly appeared the day after Easter in 1945 and didn’t bother to enter through the gates of Stalag 9B. They simply drove over and through the barricades and fences and into the camp. The guards put up no resistance. They were aware that the inevitable would soon happen, and they promptly surrendered. Nearly as quickly, PFC Eddie Leibbrand collapsed face first onto the ground. His body could take no more. He was ravaged by extreme malnutrition and jaundice. He was evacuated to a hospital in France where it took three months to rehabilitate him. He was then taken to Camp Lucky Strike and reissued the clothing necessary for his voyage back to the United States.

      Departing from Le Havre, Eddie’s return home was aboard a destroyer. He recalls that they were followed by a German submarine all the way into New York Harbor which then surrendered. The date was August 1, 1945.

       Eddie was treated to a wonderful 60-day leave with his family in Columbus before being shipped by train to Miami Beach, Florida, for two more weeks of R & R. While there he received orders to report to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where he was trained on the 60 mm (2.36 inch) mortar in preparation for his deployment to the Pacific theater. Obviously, Eddie protested on the grounds that he had suffered enough as a POW in this war. After two weeks there, Private Leibbrand was granted his appeal based on the point system. He was taken by train to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Eddie recalls the train stopping en route at Columbus’ Union Station, just miles from his home and family; but he wasn’t allowed off even for a brief visit, and he was heartbroken.

       Personnel at Camp Atterbury completed his final out processing and granted his honorable discharge on November 28, 1945.

     Upon returning to Columbus, Eddie discovered that there were no houses available for purchase, and he lived in the government built quadroplexes in the “Greenlawn Projects” just south of downtown Columbus. He met his first wife at a bingo game, and he and Billie were married in 1946. They had one son. Meanwhile, Eddie worked for 10 years as a machine repairman on the C&O railroad, working on boilers and engines. (His father also worked for the C&O for 65 years. He died at the age of 104.) Eddie spent the next 28 years working as a machinist at Columbus Boltworks at Chestnut & Marconi near the old Ohio Penitentiary (now part of the Arena District.)

      In August of 1981, Billie passed away from complications of diabetes and cardiac arrest. Eddie remarried again in July 1983 to Jane, a widow with two daughters who Eddie has always treated as his own. She passed away in December of 2007, but Eddie remains close to the daughters, Paula Brown and Martha England, and his three grandchildren - Jessica, Carrie, and Jason.

      In April of 2007, the Pickerington High School honored veteran Eddie with an honorary high school diploma as a token of compensation for leaving high school before graduation to serve our nation during WW II. Eddie sincerely appreciated that gesture and still treasures that framed diploma.

     Admittedly, Eddie has lost some of his memory. Perhaps that’s a good thing. What he does remember, however, he is willing to share. But you must ask him. Eddie doesn’t want anyone to think he was a hero. He was an unfortunate victim of circumstance at times, but he did what he had to do; and he is proud of his service to our country. He doesn’t look back at what might have been. He helps in the museum to show others what has been, which may help others in the future. Volunteers like Eddie are what keep our museum going, and veterans like Eddie are the reason we exist. We must never forget the sacrifices of Americans like Private Edwin Leibbrand.

 

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Eddie still works a four-hour shift once a week at the reception desk at Motts Military Museum.

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