WOODEN SHOES FROM WORLD WAR II
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, new VFW 1318 member Ed Odell flew
two missions in support of the Allied landing on Omaha Beach. The first
mission was a pre-dawn flight. The plane aligned itself above and along
the beach and dropped a string of bombs in the sand. The explosions
created convenient foxholes for the troops that would storm onto the beach
at dawn. His second foray from near Dover, England was behind the enemy
fortifications, meant to interdict re-supply and reinforcement of the
Edwin Earl Odell was the crew chief on the B-26 bomber used in WW II. On
his 47th mission over France, Holland and Germany, he was shot down near
Koblenz, Germany. All six crew members successfully parachuted to the
ground except one. His chute caught on the protruding loft-loading beam at
a barn’s peak. As the American flyer dangled from the beam, he was
murdered by local farmers with pitchforks. The rest of the crew was taken
prisoner by German military forces.
After interrogation, Odell was sent to several successive prison camps,
marching to each eastward as the Americans advanced toward them. The last
camp was Stalag 39 in Moosberg, Germany near the Swiss border. This camp
had both Russian and American prisoners. The Russians and Americans were
divided by a high fence inside the compound.
Ed was a light smoker and some of his tobacco ration was used for barter.
Through the fence, Odell traded some smokes to a Russian for the wooden
shoes. Since the shoes would be souvenirs, he had other prisoners in the
stalag sign the shoes and add their home state. These are the legible
names and home states of the prisoners that signed the shoes:
Left Shoe –
1. Russ Newman – Washington
2. Ken Young – Massachusetts
Right Shoe –
1. Pop Hills – Massachusetts
2. Fat Metz – Minnesota
3. Viv. [Vivian] Krepps – PA [Pennsylvania]
4. Dave Roxton – Ohio.
Ed Odell could actually wear the wooden shoes as a younger man though he
can no longer do so. In late April, 1945, a fire fight between guards and
forces unknown outside the camp went on for an hour. A silence followed.
Half an hour later, a tank of the Third Army burst through the front gate
of the prison camp with General George Patton exposed to the waist in the
turret. His ivory-handled .45 caliber automatics were clearly visible.
Ed was feted with the other prisoners as best as the liberating troops
could provide. Then he was flown to LeHavre’s Camp Lucky Strike for
nutritional rehabilitation and then ship transport to New York City, past
the Statue of Liberty – and home. Through all this, he kept the wooden
Odell came home to jobs in light construction, having graduated from such
a program at the UW-Madison after the war. He participated in the
construction of the Thule, Greenland Air Force Base in two tours in the
frozen land around 1950. Ed has three children, seven grandchildren and
three great grandchildren spread from Minnesota to Texas.
[As told to Roger Boeker on October 21, 2007.]