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Richard Carroll, a World War II veteran, speaks to a class at Hastings High School. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)

Remembering the war

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Remembering the war
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

It was nearly the end of almost two hours of speaking to students in Hastings High School teacher Scott Smallidge's social studies class last Friday. World War II veteran Richard Carroll, who grew up near Coates, now 92, had talked about his military flying experience, being shot down, and the time spent in a prison camp in Germany.


He talked about death and destruction - "you try to get used to it," he said. Emotionally, he related his parents did not know for months he was alive.

And he gave the audience another look back at his life and what brought him to schools.

"I had nightmares for 35 years after I came home and you know what those nightmares were about?" he asked. "Those dogs attacking the prisoners."

He lied about the nightmares to maintain his No. 1 clearance ranking. He was fighting another way but privately.

It ended when Carroll finally admitted his problems, when he officially retired from the Army Air Corps and the clearance issue was not important.

The decision led Carroll, along with other POWS, to form a speakers bureau for the Minnesota of Prisoners of War. The purpose was to go to high schools and "tell our story," he said. He continues to do so.

Growing up in Coates

Carroll grew up on a dairy farm just west of Hastings. In the morning he helped on the farm, and then he would walk to school in the Rosemount School District.

World War II had already started, and two government employees bought up their land and nearby property. They were forced to move, a "very stressful time for the family," recalled Carroll.

Initially, Carroll was deferred from the service, but that would soon change.

"I used to dream about being a cowboy," he said. I love to ride horses."

That dream was dashed.

Frequently he saw aircraft flying overhead and considered that would be a good choice for a career. So he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and entered training, took the tests, learned the codes, the system of navigation and went into active duty. Eastern Europe was the area, and the goal was bombing the oil fields in France, Austria, and eventually Hungary, where he was shot down.

"War is not a game, war is no fun; it is deadly," said Carroll. "Every mission we flew, planes went down."

He recalled vividly several incidents, one in which a nearby plane was hit. The airman was ejected from the plane, his clothing on fire.

"It was a quick death," said Carroll. "You figure you had two minutes before you hit Mother Earth. How would you spend those two minutes? There are so many memories."

Carroll's luck ends

His luck ran out on his 15th flight, which was to Budapest, he said. He remembers falling and spinning and pulling the ripcord.

When he hit the ground, he heard shooting and began walking to a nearby corn field. From the field emerged farmers and other people armed with shovels, spades and hoes. There was no understanding the language.

The shot rang, and Carroll was hit with a bullet in the heart, a bullet which is still there in his body.

"I do realize how fortunate I am, how blessed I am," said Carroll.

The immediate confrontation was not over. As a farmer came toward him, Carroll knew what was going to happen.

"He hit me hard on the back of my head," he said. "That hit was so powerful I compared it to going to the Bloomington Stadium and hearing that smack when (Harmon) Killebrew (of the Minnesota Twins) would hit a ball so hard. That was the noise."

Carroll was taken to a military hospital for initial treatment. He was also given the Last Rites of the Catholic Church, but he survived.

He was moved to another prison hospital where medical personnel discussed removing the bullet, but they were very concerned because of ongoing bleeding.

There was a blood clot in his leg, which could only be treated with hot packs. In five days the clot loosened, and the bullet remained.

Carroll was taken to an interrogation station for questioning. The military wanted answers and Carroll did not supply any.

"It was just name, rank and serial number; that is all we were required to give," he said.

Prisoner camp

Carroll refused to answer questions - each day they became a little more angrier -- this went on for five days.

Finally, Carroll and others were taken by bus to the prison camp at Barth on the Baltic Sea. There were 10,000 POWs there, mostly Americans, and most crammed into small areas with little food and hard beds. The nearby bombing was heard daily.

Fencing was around the area. "Shoot to kill" was the goal if someone made it over the fence.

The food? Potatoes were stored in the ground and often rotted. Prisoners learned they could eat the "hard rot" and survive. Heating the soft rot lead to serious illness. Dysentery was very common and prisoners were underweight and starving.

When the prison camp was overrun, the prisoners were released, first to France, before coming home. He arrived back in America June 30, 1945.

He married, raised three children and has five grandchildren. He could no longer be an airman, so went to work for the Federal government, in Veterans Affairs.

What does it mean?

As he neared the end of his discussion, Carroll said there were morals to be gained from his life and speeches.

"To encourage your attitudes," he said. "Make the attitude positive.

Be interested in everything," he said. "Learn as much as you can.

Be ready for change - the world is full of change. Accept change as a challenge."

When asked what kept him going through his experiences, Carroll paused for a moment, and then said, "Faith plays a part," he said. "You don't want to give up as life is so precious."

Jane Lightbourn
(651) 319-4503