It’s been almost 70 years since World War II veteran Harold Schwerdt, 94, served his country, and spent almost two years as a prisoner of war in a German prison camp. Decades, and yet, when Schwerdt tries to talk about his experience, his eyes well up, and he finds the pain of those memories as real as if they happened yesterday.
Sharing those memories, though, is a gift to future generations and makes history come alive — and will serve as an impetus for many to join the American Legion, an organization of which Schwerdt is a lifetime member, an honor given by the president of the United States. That’s why, this year, Schwerdt shared his story, with the hope of focusing on the importance of keeping the American Legion alive and vibrant for the generations to come.
Describing his war experience, Schwerdt said, “I was flying in a B-17. We got shot up pretty bad. We circled the airport but we couldn’t land because of the landing gears. The plane had 60 flack holes, that I counted. We were flying on one engine; three got shot away. We all bailed out. The tail disassembled. That plane was all shot up. We were fortunate to get out. A few of us got hurt.”
For two years after, Schwerdt was in a German camp. His voice quiet, he said, “I don’t want to talk about being a prisoner of war, how was it. I get filled up. It bothers me, at night.”
During his time as a POW, Schwerdt was held in several different camps. “It was no picnic,” he said.
Schwerdt lost his identical twin brother, Arthur, in World War II. “He was killed on a PT boat; he served in Japan,” Schwerdt said. “I was in a prison camp and they wouldn’t tell me.” Later, he learned the sad news. “My mother had three of us in the war. Two in the Navy and me in the Air Corps.”
Schwerdt was drafted into service at 22; his twin brother enlisted in the Navy, he said. “Two days after he enlisted, I was drafted,” he said.
His family grew up in Jamaica, Schwerdt said. According to an article in the Long Island Daily Press, printed on June 18, 1945, Schwerdt, a technical sergeant, was liberated on May 5 by 3rd Army Troops, according to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Schwerdt. “Sergeant Schwerdt was on a 200-mile -forced march from Krems, Austria, when he was released by American soldiers. He had been a prisoner since July 30, 1943, when the Flying Fortress on which he was a waist gunner was shot down over Cassel, Germany. Sergeant Schwerdt is a graduate of Public School 117, Jamaica, and Jamaica High School,” the article stated.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps... (see more at: http://southoldlocal.com/)