Focus on History: Gloversville resident Bill Rosa’s experiences as a POW
Pvt. William “Bill” Rosa from Gloversville and his infantry patrol were pinned down by German machine gun crossfire in Nancy, France, on Sept. 22, 1944. Rosa had arrived in France earlier that month.
Rosa wrote, “We dropped into German trenches for protection when snipers began picking off our men in the squad one at a time.”
Rosa was hit by fragments from a German grenade; three more Americans were killed. Rosa wrote, “The corporal in charge thought it would be in the best interests of the survivors to surrender to the two German captives which we were holding in the trenches. From the trenches we were taken to a country school house by truck where we were held overnight.”
The Allies bombed the school during the night, but no prisoners were injured. The next morning they were taken by truck to Prison Camp 12A about 50 miles from Frankfurt, Germany.
After a week, they were put into a boxcar of a train and taken to a location nearer to Berlin. They were given very little water plus a watery soup each day made from spoiled vegetables. They stayed on the boxcar for eight days and the train was strafed by American planes.
Rosa then was shipped to a prison camp near Munich and sent daily on work parties where, among other tasks, he sacked and delivered potatoes. Rosa said, “Ninety percent of the population of Munich were prisoners, either POWs or slave labor.”
Rosa first was reported missing in action. His family was told just before Thanksgiving that he was being held as a prisoner of war.
The Americans were housed with political prisoners. Rosa described his compound’s guard as a humane veteran of World War I. SS troops with dogs guarded the political prisoners. That winter Rosa alternated working sites between the railroads and a concentration camp.
There was little food and what meat they received was horsemeat. Rosa wrote, “One time I found a horse’s tooth in my soup.”
During air raids, prisoners took shelter in a brewery cellar but sometimes were pushed out. Rosa said a sadistic guard once beat the prisoners during an air raid, “I was hit square in the back with his rifle butt, causing painful and permanent injury.”
Orders came to eliminate the prisoners. Instead, the POWs were forced to march 31 miles toward Salzburg and put on a train. Along the way the train was strafed but the guards allowed the prisoners to leave the train and take shelter along the track. None of the prisoners was hit. Rosa wrote, “The planes were so close we could make out the features of the pilots.”
The prisoners were taken to a small town named St. Johann, Austria, about 15 miles from the Nazi high command retreat in Berchtesgaden. Rosa contracted pneumonia and there was no medical care.
By May, Rosa wrote the war was ending, “The guards had been ordered to shoot all the POWs. However, they refused and simply left us in the camp.”
The 101st Airborne Division liberated Rosa’s camp May 8 and he was taken to a field hospital. He was honorably discharged from the Army in December 1945 and awarded a Purple Heart.
Back in Gloversville Rosa worked as a plumber. He and his wife, Ruth, raised their two daughters, Susan and Janice.
Susan’s son, Amsterdam middle school history teacher Richard Peters, submitted his grandfather’s account of eight months as a POW during my Stories from the Mohawk Valley contest. Rosa wrote down the information for an application for a POW medal in the 1980s. Bill Rosa died Jan. 4, 2007 at age 88.