Whispers From an Empty Coffin
Donald W. Schuman
778 Tank Battalion, Co. B
WWII Prisoner of War
Donald was assigned to the 778th Tank Battalion, Company B, and was in charge of maintenance of the five tanks in his battalion.
The tanks were M4 Sherman Medium Tanks that held a crew of five men; three assigned to the upper positions, and two assigned to the lower positions.
The 778th left for Europe aboard the SS Monticello on September 4, 1944 and arrived in Cherbourg, France on September 15, 1944, making the 778th Tank Battalion part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach.
"Before we landed, off in the distance, we could see and hear the heavy artillery shells exploding up and down the beach. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that danger and death were waiting for us at the water's edge. I love my country, and if I were killed defending it, I knew my death would not have been in vain because our reasons for being there were honorable", Donald told his son, Ed. "Those of us coming ashore were warned to stay vigilant of snipers, mines and large boulders that had been strategically placed along the beach by the Germans, but what they failed to mention was the power of the enemy's defense. It was much stronger than anyone expected. Dead bodies were everywhere, and I mean everywhere! It was a damn bloody mess, which made it even harder for us to advance."
Donald had what he considered a 'true honor' of serving directly with General Patton during the Battle for Metz, actually riding Patton in his tank for part of that time served. Days after winning the Battle for Metz, Donald gets his first taste of mortality when his tank is hit by a bazooka. He found himself the sole survivor of his crew, terribly wounded, and now a prisoner of the enemy.
Donald spent months as a Prisoner of War, enduring conditions that were inhumane. As a prisoner, he was forced to work on the rail lines for the enemy during the nighttime ours and it was here that Donald took his first opportunity to escape. Unsuccessful, he is punished severely but that does not discourage him from further escape attempts.
As the army closed in on Bad Kreuznach, heavy fighting invaded the enemy compound here Donald and others were being held. Donald and a handful of American prisoners made a run for the tunnels used by the Nazis at the camp where they hid until they were liberated.
Following a chaotic liberation, Donald was taken to Camp Lucky Strike, forty miles from Le Havre, France. He is then transferred to a hospital in Birmingham, England to begin his recovery.
Donald was almost mistakenly sent back to the front lines. After being sent to a military training camp not far from the hospital in Birmingham, and while on a 10-mile march (double time), Donald fell out. The Sgt. made fun of him. "What's the matter Schuman? Can't you take it"? Donald shouted back, "If you had been where I was, you wouldn't be able to take this either"! The Sgt. questioned what he meant by that statement. Donald explained he had been a POW and recently freed. The next thing Donald knew, an ambulance arrived to transfer him back to camp, where he was ordered to report to the Major's office immediately.
Donald met with Executive Officer, Major Arthur I Davenport and explained his four-month ordeal as a POW. Major Davenport asked, "Well on, what the hell are you doing here"? All Donald could say was, "Sir, I have noooooooo idea."
Over his four-month ordeal as a POW, Donald went from 190 pounds to under 120 pounds. Standing over six feet tall, he was nothing more than a shell.
©copyright Kathleen Belfiore Schuman