A World War II veteran, at 97 years old, Harley “Sam” Bly of Newport had one final mission to complete before crossing over to the other side. He wanted to leave behind the story of his life as a prisoner of war, a chapter of his life he’d never shared with anybody. Segments of his remarkable story appeared in the September, October, and November issues of Vermont’s Northland Journal. With his mission behind him, he passed away on November 14.
Sam was a top turret gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator Bomber with the United States 15th Army Air Corps 464th Bombardment Group when it was shot down over Austria in May 1944. Captured upon landing, he became a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft IV in Grosstychow, Prussia (now Poland). His captors later took him and thousands of other Allied prisoners on a several hundred mile forced march (the Black March).
The following is an excerpt from the series about his time at the POW camp:
The prisoners lived on starvation rations: barley soup and a slice of bread in the morning. “The bread was sour,” he recalled. “It made me lose my appetite.” On the other hand, he said, “You’d eat anything you could get a hold of.”
Later in the day, they were fed the meager contents of Red Cross packages.
“There was only enough for one packet for two men,” Bly said. In addition to small amounts of canned and dried food items, the packets also included instant coffee, instant milk, sugar, and cigarettes. Cooked potatoes were also routinely added to their diets.
During the Black March, which took place between early February and May, 1945, the POWs were divided into groups of 200 to 250 men and forced marched 600 miles. The following is an excerpt of the article about Sam’s life:
Those who took part in the Black March survived sometimes brutal conditions, including winter’s wrath. Many prisoners suffered a wide array of ailments: frostbite, pneumonia, dysentery, tuberculosis, and dysentery to name a few. Bly told how the guards marched them 12 to 24 miles a day. Nearing nightfall the guards looked for barns to house their prisoners for the night.
“Some days it was sunny and nice, but other days it wasn’t so nice,” he said. “I remember one day in particular we stayed in a barn overnight. It rained all day, but they marched us all day. Come night they couldn’t find a barn so we slept out in a farmer’s pasture.”
Hunger was the prisoners’ constant companion. Red Cross rations were not enough to quench their hunger, even when they were in camp. It was worse when they were on the march.
Rest in peace, Sam. Thank you for your service!