ALBERT HAHN RECALLS POW DAYS IN RUSSIA
WITH 40 OTHER U.S. FLYERS HE CROSSED SIBERIA THE HARD WAY
The bleakest days for Precinct 1’s next county commissioner, Albert Hahn, came in the winter of 1942-43. That’s the winter he and 39 other American flyers were interned by the Russiansallies thenin cold Siberia. Commissioner-Elect Hahn recalled some of those experiences, during 9 months of exposure and semi-starvation in the hands of the Russians, for a Citizen editor the other day. World War II was young in September, 1942 when the B-25 bomber on which Lt. Hahn was bombardier was forced down at a little place called Petropavlovak on the Siberian peninsula. Second Lt. Hahn was making his last run against the Japs on this flight, then was due a rest, but on this bombing run over Jap ships at Paramushiro, his bomber and 4 others in the flight of 11 were crippled or low on gas so that they had to land. All chose nearby Russian land. Four of the 11 planes were shot down, 3 made it back to the base camp on Attu, in the Aleutians.
First out of the plane, Lt. Hahn met his first Russian on Russian soila Russian WAC with a bayoneted rifle pointed at his chest. She disarmed the flyers and herded them to an abandoned school house near Petropavlovak where 40 from the 5 planes lived for about a month. One American died of wounds received on the bombing run. Here the Americans underwent incessant questioning by Russian soldiersabout themselves, their outfits, their parents in America and about America itself. When they left Petropavlovak, it was in an American made Mars flying boat, piloted by the Russians, probably a lend-lease plane.
|It was one of many moves, the Americans never knowing where they were going, or why, or in what part of the huge Russian country they were. The Russians told them that they were trying to keep the Japs from catching them. From Petropavlovak to Sakhalin Island; to the mouth of the Amu river, which separates Manchuria from Russia; to Irkutsk, a town on the river where the temperature was 30 below; to Novo Sibirsk, capitol of Siberia; to Omsk, where they sighted hundreds of damaged German airplanes; to Alma Ata; to Tashkent. From Tashkent the 40 were taken by buses to a small village about 40 miles away where an abandoned school house again became their shelter. This was in the midst of a collective farm, and it was in the streets of towns here they saw groups of political prisoners, poorly dressed and chained, working on rock piles or streets.
When the flyers came down, they had only the clothing they had on, and in this school house, their clothes began to wear out. The Russians gave them a tunic, pants and hobnailed boots. They had been given a mattress cover and allowed to fill it with straw for a bed, and 2 blankets.
Many of them began to pick up a few words of the Russian language but a Russian woman was their assigned interpreter. The U. S. soldiers were fed rice and cabbage mainly, once a week got some ground goat meat, got black tea and black bread, once a week a teaspoon of sugar. They contracted diarrhea, and it wasn’t until they took over kitchen duties themselves from the Armenian cook that they got in better health.
Hope had begun to run low with the 40. They had no word from any friendly human, or an American consul, and plans were made for an escape. One soldier tried but was gone only 4 days before he was captured and returned. However, before escape time came, an American consul came to visit. Several weeks later, they were loaded onto 6 American lend-lease trucks and began to move. They were not allowed to look out from the covered beds of the trucks for 52 hours, as they rolled. Finally they crossed into Iran, and at the border found out where they were but not where they were going. Finally some FBI men joined them and the Russians departed.
However, with the FBI they also were quarantinedbut were treated royally. Told that they could have anything they wanted, many of the soldier’s first wish was for American beer, and it miraculously appeared! Their trip led to Teheran, into Northern Africa, where they lived for many months in the castle of a French baroness. The FBI was with them constantly. They were security risks. It wasn’t until the end of the war in 1945 that they were allowed to tell anyone where they had been.
The U.S. had reported the airmen “missing in action” when their planes did not return from Paramushiro. An FBI man called at the home of Albert’s parents in Columbus after the prisoners of the Russians had been placed in American hands and told Mrs. Hahn, Sr. of her son’s whereabouts but asked her to give that information to no one. It was in May, 1943 that these 40 landed at Hampton Roads, Va. From there they telephoned home. Looking back, Mr. Hahn says that the Russian people they saw apparently had living standards comparable to those of our early American pioneers.
Colorado County Citizen, December 23, 1954
After David posted the above article to his family web site, his aunt, Martha Hahn, had the following comment to make about it:
"Thanks for posting this account of his internment in Russia as I had never heard in exact detail as told by him and was so glad to read it. You know, of course, that brother, Burford, got the news of his whereabouts while in Anzio and was able to notify parents before they received the official word. The news came to him from someone who had been in that area and transferred into their area at Anzio. That's when Daddy Hahn turned white hair overnight, I understand! Martha"
The following was read at the opening football game at Columbus High School in 1943 by Sam K. Seymour, Jr.
September 24, 1943
Tonight, my friends, is the beginning of our second year of football, while our country is at War; so tonight this game is being dedicated to the memory of three former Columbus High School students, who have paid the supreme sacrifice, so you and I could come here tonight and peacefully enjoy this football game.
The boys I have reference to are Paul Hastedt, killed in action at Guadalcanal, this year; Clarence Cone, who died from accident in an Army Hospital in Denver; and Albert (Sonny) Hahn, who wore #26 on his Cardinal uniform, when we had the Co-Regional Championship team, in 1935. This message was received by Albert's parents, Wednesday of this week.
With such messages as this coming to us, I am sure each one of you realize each day the horrors of war, and as we are now about to enter the last week of our 3rd. Bond drive, I am sure if these three honored heroes could speack to us tonight they would tell us to carry on the battle by buying more war bonds. Now in the memory of these boys, to hwom this game is dedicated, let me beg you, let me plead with you, to go to your bank tomorrow or the postoffice, or the Saving & Loan Association and by a bond in these boys memory. Won't you please do that, I believe you will. These boys we honor tonight bought war bonds each month, and two have given their lives for us. Lets make ourselves worthy of our Columbus High School Heroes and our American Dead, by buying a bond tomorrow.
The message he referred to above was a Western Union telegram dated September 21, 1943 that said:
"The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Second Lieutenant Albert W. Hahn has been reported missing in action since eleven September in the Asiatic area. If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified. The Adjutant General"
TEXAS BOMBARDIER SAVES HIS CREW BY HEROIC ACTION
The daring young man’s act on the flying trapeze was tame stuff compared with the stunt which Second Lt. Albert Hahn pulled to save his bomber and its crew from destruction. For this he was awarded the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Hahn, 23, son of Mr. And Mrs. A. W. Hahn of Columbus, is the bombardier on a Billy Mitchell B-25 medium bomber in the Aleutians zone of operations. He was one of the volunteers who participated in a sensational mission over Kiska last March 3. The surprise raid, at housetop level, was planned by two young Army Air Force pilots, First Lts. George A. Barber of Lubbock, and Bill Candy of Braintree, Mass.
It was a sort of Commando raid from the air on radio detection buildings, gun batteries, hangars and runways, the radio station and the submarine base at the Japanese-occupied island. Six unescorted Mitchells made the attack and all returned to their base.
Target for Hahn’s plane was the submarine base, cunningly located in a corner between two hills in a corner between two hills which rose up from the sea. His plane, piloted by Lt. Norman Henrickson of Chicago, was following a plane piloted by Lt. Ray G. Stoltzman of Marshfield, Wis. To approach the target the bombers had to dive into the hill pocket. The second plane not only bore the brunt of anti-aircraft fire but was considerably damaged when a 500-pound bomb from the lead plane exploded prematurely just beneath it.
All of these troubles brought on more. Only one of the bombs dropped from Hahn’s damaged plane. He went back to investigate and found two live bombs, each hanging from one shackle only, banging away against the still open bomb bay doors and ready to explode any minute.
Hanging on to the radio operator, Tech. Sgt. Robert A. Irish, for support, Hahn swung into the bomb bay, slipped pins back into the fuses, unscrewed the detonators and kicked the bombs away from the plane into the sea. He ran the risk of being blown to bits, or plunging to death in the icy waters below.
When the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor Hahn was working with a geophysical exploration party. He had had three years of engineering at Texas A. & M College and was planning to go back at midterm. He entered an Army Air Forces school instead. His primary training as bombardier was taken at Ellington Field and he won his wings at Concho Field, San Angelo, where he remained for two months as instructor. He didn’t think he was doing enough so he volunteered for combat duty and landed in the Aleutians.
He was born in Columbus Aug. 22, 1919, and was graduated from Columbus High School. He has one brother, Capt. Burford Hahn, in the Army Medical Corps and attached to an evacuation hospital in North Africa. His sister, Elizabeth, was married in May to Lt. (jg) Stewart L. Bosl, USN, of Schulenburg.
He was decorated in May by Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, commander of the 4th Army and the Western Defense Command.
Fort Worth Star Telegram, July, 1943
Native to get POW medal
By James Jennings, Managing Editor.
On Thursday, a Columbus native and former Colorado County Commissioner will receive a belated honor.
Lt. Albert W. Hahn Jr., who died in 1977, will be posthumously awarded a Prisoner of War Medal during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Columbus VFW. The medal will be presented to his son David Hahn of Richmond.
Albert Hahn Jr. served in the 11th Army Air Force during World War II and was stationed at Attu Island in the Aleutians.
Hahn took part in bombing missions over Japan from the air base in the Aleutians.
On Sept. 11, 1943, he was on a bombing mission over Paramushiro, Japan, when problems forced five American bombers to land in Siberia.
Although the Soviet Union was an ally of the U.S. in the European Theater, it was considered a neutral country in the war against Japan. The Soviets signed a neutrality pact with Japan in April 1941.
As a result, the Soviets were, by international law, obliged to intern personnel of warring nations if they were in the control of Soviet armed forces.
The 40 crewmen were detained by the Soviets and were moved around for several months.
During this time, the airmen were officially listed as missing in action.
Many back home in Columbus believed Hahn had been killed. Columbus High School even dedicated one of its games to Columbus residents who had been killed in the war, including Hahn.
Hahn's family was finally notified by telegram on Oct. 20, 1943, that he had been "interned in a neutral country," but that country was not identified.
The soldiers were finally transported to Tehran, Iran, and released to the Americans in February 1944. They were held there in comfort until the end of the war in 1945.
Because of security reasons, the Soviet internment was never listed in any of the soldiers' official records and the soldiers were sworn to secrecy.
Some of them were finally awarded the POW Medal in 1992, but Hahn was not among that group.
A year and a half ago, David Hahn began his quest for his father to be awarded the medal.
His first request to the Department of the Air Force was denied.
"We have thoroughly reviewed your father's official military records and were unable to verify his entitlement to this award," Edward Townsend of the Air Force Awards and Decorations Section wrote to Hahn in a July 6, 2004, letter.
David Hahn then contacted Otis Hayes, the author of "Back Home from Siberia," which detailed the events of the internment and named all the airmen, including Lt. Hahn.
Hayes referred Hahn to the president of the 11th Air Force Association, who happened to be in the same group as Lt. Hahn.
With documentation supplied by the association, the Air Force reversed its decision and agreed to award the POW Medal to Lt. Hahn.
"It's not common for someone to be awarded a medal 61 years after the fact," David Hahn said. "I'm proud that he will finally get that recognition."
David Hahn and his wife Tam receive Albert W. Hahn Jr's POW Medal from VFW Commander Harry Henkhaus on Nov 11, 2004