“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Birthdays: Moosburg and Munich

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Today, 69 years ago on his 30th birthday, my father was wandering the streets of Moosburg, Germany, as a liberated POW from the nearby camp – Stalag VII –  begging for food. He was a bony, emaciated version of his large, imposing figure, always described as handsome,  that he kept below 200 pounds.  Under 200 at least until after he retired and started eating lots of ice cream. ( I have seen “Moosburg” also spelled “Moosberg.” I’m landing on the first one.”)

He stood on a 6-feet three-inch frame  topped with a full head of dark hair. In his starving condition, his hair was likely thinning, a symptom of malnutrition. But I don’t really know. Photos after his return and for a year or two afterwards don’t exist, as far as I know.

I once asked dad a question that arose in my mind probably from watching one of the many stupid, lying, deplorable versions of life in a POW camp, like “Hogan’s Heroes”  or “The Great Escape.”


“Dad, what did you all in the POW camp think about? Betty Grable’s legs or something else off a pin-up poster?” I think I may have asked the question suggesting “sex” as a possible answer.

“Oh, for crying out loud, no,” he answered, sort of laughing. “The only thing any of us ever thought about was food. Just food. We talked about our favorite food, our favorite meal, our last meal before being captured, what we’d eat first when we got out. Just food.”

He always explained that the Germans, by that time in the war, had nothing to eat either. He told my cousin that all they ate were turnips.

But the widespread starvation was the very thing that brought such danger to prisoners captured that late: The Germans could have simply killed many, many of the prisoners in that camp built to hold 10,000, but which had somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 POWs.

Only four years after World War II, dad had to return to the place where the evils of Nazism had caused such horrific death and suffering for millions and millions and millions of human beings including himself. And that place where his role was to bomb, strafe, and bomb. He got orders to Neubiberg AFB, in Munich, Germany. He would join the 86th Fighter Group as part of the Allied Occupational Forces. He left just after the first of the year, 1949, and my mother, younger brother, and I (my sister was born in Munich) followed some months later, on the QE I, where I threw up every single day for the two-week trip crossing the Atlantic. It’s my only memory of that trip, except being held down by a big orderly and a nurse who gave me daily shots. Dramamine hadn’t been invented yet. 

I don’t think I ever asked dad how he felt about going back to Germany, to Munich, just down the road from Stalag VIIA.  In my moments of regret over what I never asked or didn’t get answers to, I remind myself that dad wasn’t going to provide any details anyway. He always answered those questions in a light, evasive way. He would have said, “Oh, I didn’t think about it much. I got orders and I just went.”

Only recently have I learned that he must have made a conscious decision early on to lowball his World War II experiences that by all reason should have caused his death.

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My memories of Munich are episodic, childish, and spotty. I was the age  my granddaughter is now. I spent the first, second, and third grade in Munich’s American School. (In the picture above, I’m on the back row, right, girl.) I remember the Frauenkirche, bombed out buildings, what I called “The Angel of Peace,” which I don’t know what it really is. And the Fasching Parade (equivalent to our Mardis Gras), the first one allowed after the war ended, all set against the backdrop of bombed out buildings. We will find out in a few months, when we travel to Munich, Innsbruck, the South Tyrol, and the Ridanna Valley where dad ended up after his incredible descent from the alpine mountain called Zuckerhutl. We will at last meet the two men who discovered his P51 crash site, found me by chance, and gave us the rare opportunity to know dad’s story in a real, not a comic book, way.

Somewhere in the bowels of the family memorabilia are black and white prints and 35 mm transparencies of our years in Munich. I will post those when I find and scan them.



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