Letters from John (Bo) Hearne

1945 - Germany and the liberation of Buchenwald

"We used to read Bo’s letter at my sister’s [Irene] house.

Every Friday night she’d bake 3 or 4 cakes and we’d read Bo’s letters."  -Bill Hearne, 2002

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Text Version

Germany March 24, 1945

Dear Ma and Gang,

Here I am again after what seems a long time, to let you know that I'm still okay and I'm getting along fine. Haven't received any mail lately, as we have been on the move continually, but am hoping it will catch up with me soon.

I had quite an interesting experience a while back. I was transferred to a bomber squadron on special duty for 10 days, and flew quite a few missions. Our targets consisted mainly of railroad marshaling yards with the exception of the last one. This target was a huge ordinance plant and boy did those one ton bombs plaster hell out of it. The day we made that flight was just about perfect as far as flying was concerned. All you could see in the sky was hundreds of our planes going and coming. As far as you could see on the ground was burning cities and villages. It seemed as if all Germany was in flames. We were flying through the dense smoke at an altitude of thirteen thousand feet. Some kraut fighters pumped us, but our escort quickly engaged them. We ran into some flak on the return trip, but managed to get through okay. You don't know how swell it was to see those bombs hit! I guess I'm getting awfully blood-thirsty, but I can't forget the night we crossed the Rhine or what I've seen since we came into Germany. I really hate and despise these bastards.

I have seen some pretty terrible and sickening things since I've been overseas, but not long ago I saw one of the most horrible and revolting sights that any person could ever see. When the "fighting third" blitzed through this section we overran the krauts before they knew what the score was. One place we got was a Nazi concentration camp [Buchenwald] and after we mopped up the captain and I went up to see it. It was terrible. I always thought the stories told about these places was exaggerated for propaganda purposes, but you can take it from me that anything you read or hear about these filthy scum is the absolute truth. I saw it with my own eyes and I know. It was one of the most unbelievable scenes that any human could lay his eyes on and I only pray Almighty God that never again will I ever see such a site. First of all the prisoners were a conglomeration of Poles, French, Russians, Belgians and Slavs. There had been a few British and American flyers there, but only for a few days. They were killed without much delay according to the prisoners there. Anti-Nazi Germans were killed as soon as they arrive, likewise all the Jews. Some of these poor devils have been here three or four years. How in God’s name they ever survived, I don't know. There were several instruments of torture scattered about. When a new prisoner arrived he was strapped to a table-like contraption, located just a few yards inside the gate, and was given anywhere from ten to twenty blows across the back and body with a wooden club, half again as thick as a broomstick and about 3three feet long. I saw the blood-stained club myself. This was given for no other reason than to serve as a warning for things to come if they were so foolish as to cross their Nazi overlords. If they were fortunate they died from the results of this initial beating. A great number who survived were crippled as a result. Another devilish contraption was used as a punishment for one reason or another. The poor devil getting the works was hung by the wrists from this high hole. This don't sound bad, but I neglected to say that before he was tied to it his arms were first trussed up behind his back. Naturally, as soon as he was pulled up the weight of his body would break his arms and shoulders. They died as a rule within a few hours, due to their weakened physical condition. The most terrible place of all was what the inmates called the "liberty room". This was the crematory. It was built with only one idea in mind, "mass murderer". You entered through a lower chamber, and it was here that the doomed were killed. They were either clubbed to death or hung by the neck to one of the many loops hanging from the wall. After the victim was killed his body was placed on an elevator which carried the bodies up to the crematory, which consisted of six long, huge ovens, equipped with oil burners. When we entered the stench almost made me vomit. There were still partially burned bodies in all of them. Everywhere were piles of charred bones and bodies stacked like cords of wood, which they hadn't had time to burn. We couldn't stand it any longer in there so we went outside only to see more piled up. They had been clubbed to death and made a bloody site. We left quickly and went down to the "living" quarters of the inmates, only to see sights so pitiful as to bring tears to your eyes. In a room which would normally house two hundred, the krouts had jammed about fifteen hundred. Many died of suffocation and during the past terrible winter hundreds froze in the unheated quarters. Their food consisted of a watery soup and bread. As we walked through the barracks, hundreds lay on their wooden bunks too weak to move, even to raise their hand to accept a cigarette. Our hard-pressed medics were doing their best to remove those that could possibly be saved. Hundreds of other living skeletons just lay, waiting to die. Nothing could be done for them as they were too far gone. Some died, even as we stood there. Further down in the camp was a wired and area where they kept their human guinea pigs. These poor devils had been deliberately infected with diseases as experiments. Most of them, too, were merely awaiting death. Dying, as they were, they still had the courage to smile and some succeeded in gathering enough strength to gasp out "Vive America", when we entered the room. I only wish some of the people in the states could have through this "hell". I'm sure it would change their outlook on the war.

Our boss "old blood and guts" ordered that one thousand German citizens of the city be taken on a tour of the camp. We rounded up four thousand and took them there. Of course, they pretended that they did not know this had been going on. I rounded up my men, too and made them see it.
  This camp was run by SS troops, Hitler's elite. I feel sorry for any of them that my boys ever lay their hands on. I know that they'll never take any of them alive.
  I gather from radio news that the war is practically over by you folks in the States, but remember, even though it's entering the home stretch, the going is still rough and there are G.Is dying every day. It's not easy.
  One of the prisoners in the camp told me that over eighty thousand people had gone into the ovens. I actually cried when I saw all these poor souls waiting to die. Never have I felt so small and helpless. I just can't talk about it anymore now. I'll try to tell you more next time. Please pass this along to the rest of the family as I can't write again now. Say hello to everyone and I send my love.


Bo, Camp Detroit, France


Bo, France


Bo, oversees


Bo, Texas




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