By Naomi Hatch
The Snowflake Pioneer Day theme this year is Pioneers & Patriots, and Eldon “Spud” Stratton will be honored as grand marshal of the parade. The parade begins at 9 a.m. and the route goes down Second West.
Stratton’s daughter Sherry and her husband Merlin Hancock are speakers at the Pioneer Program honoring hometown veterans in a slide show. The program will be held at 10:30 a.m. or immediately following the parade at the Main Street LDS Chapel.
Spud Stratton is one of Snowflake’s heroes, having been a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, and is honored on the Veteran’s War Memorial in Snowflake on Center Street near the Snowflake Social Hall.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, leading to the United States’ entrance into World War II. The small towns of Snowflake and Taylor would feel the impact of that war along with the rest of the world.
Spud Stratton was 20 years old on that day. He was born June 21, 1921, and grew up in Snowflake.
In October 1943 he went to Holbrook for a physical exam. He passed, so he knew it wouldn’t be long before he was sent to war, leaving his wife and 5-month-old daughter, Sherry.
“In the fall of 1944, I went to England,” he said noting they shipped out of New York harbor on the Queen Mary. On their way, the ship zigzagged to avoid the German subs through Ireland on down to France, where they landed in Le Havre.
“They sent me into France as a replacement. The only reason you go is you’re replacing somebody who had been killed,” said Stratton. “We fought pretty well. The Germans were pretty much on the run and losing quite a bit, and we were advancing pretty fast.
“I was a telephone lineman in the battlefield. Quite often in the evening we’d string the line in… quite often we’d be stumbling out of there in the dark.
“You’d go where you were supposed to go and hear the Germans and your mouth would go dry. I can’t start to tell you how many blessings the good Lord’s given me,” he said, noting that he could have been taken at any time.
“We got where the Germans knew they had to do something or it was over. They launched a big offense called The Battle of the Bulge. That’s when I was captured.”
The prisoners were put in a barn and interrogated a little, but would only give their name, rank and serial number. “Later that night the Germans would start reading off names and told us to step forward. Mine was one of the first called,” Stratton recalled.
“We went down the Rhine River that night. They had blown out all the bridges” so they put planks across the river and drove the trucks across. This is also how they walked across the Rhine.
“We walked until after midnight or so that night, and they put us up in a barn again,” he said, noting how cold it was because it was around Christmastime. They lay on top of each other to keep warm.
They walked another day or so and arrived at a train station, where they stayed that night. Early the next day they were put on a train. The cars were made to hold 40 men and eight horses each, but they carried 90 to 100 men. There were a few inches of straw on the floor and what they called “honey buckets” on each end of the car. Those were five-gallon buckets used as latrines. The prisoners were fed very little, so they were cold and hungry.
After two days on the train they arrived at Stalag 5-A, a camp in Stuttgart, Germany.
“It was the first camp I was in. On Feb. 5 they were going to move us again,” he said, noting the reason he knew the date was because it was his wife’s birthday.
“We walked quite a ways and they put us in some train cars,” he said. It wasn’t that bad with 9,200 of them in there, because it kept them a little warm.
Finally, they got to Stalag 11-B between Hanover and Bremen, where there were about 10,000 prisoners, the majority Russian.
“I had one shower in four months and we were so tickled to get out of there,” said Stratton. They had rations of barley water and “that old German black bread, but it was pretty yummy.
“I always tell people there’s no such thing as not liking something. If you don’t want it, you’re just not that hungry.”
They slept on bunks two and three high with sides on them. Two guys slept in a bunk and they had to roll over at the same time.
He had spent a month in combat stringing lines before he was captured and was a prisoner of war for four months.
“I weighed 185 to 190 lbs. when I went in, and when I came out I was 132 lbs.,” he said.
“I’m not a drop in the buck to a good friend of mine, Paul Wasson, who spent lots of time as a prisoner of war.
“The morning we were liberated we looked out and there wasn’t a German in the camp anyplace. They’d all left. We ran down to the tanks,” he said.
“We were flown back to England to a staging area and then put in the hospital, where we were stripped and all of our clothes that were burned.” They were then given bathrobes and pajamas.
They went to London, where the Army had rented hotels, and stayed there. Each day they would check the bulletin board to see when they were going to get a boat home.
Stratton was in London for approximately two weeks and could sign the payroll every 48 hours for $52. They all had quite a lot of money due them, but he only signed it once.
There was a convoy of 11 ships loaded with POWs for the 21-day trip back to the States. They landed at Camp Patrick Henry, Va., then continued on to the Chesapeake Bay, where he caught a train to Fort Bliss, Texas. He was given 71-day recuperation leave so he could see his family, spending the Fourth of July in Snowflake.
Following his leave he was sent to Santa Barbara, Calif. He took his wife and stayed in some fancy hotels.
Stratton’s records were lost, so they didn’t know what he had been trained for. He was sent to Camp Roberts, Calif., where he was supposed to train trainees because the war in Japan was still going, but soon the atomic bomb was dropped and it looked like the Japanese would surrender.
Spud, Pearl and Sherry rented a small farm house near Camp Roberts and stayed there until he was discharged in the latter part of December 1945.
He never wants to leave Snowflake, and knows that he was very blessed.