WHEN A WWII VETERAN FROM THE GREATEST GENERATION DECIDE TO HELP
THE NEW GENERATION
Who We Are
Founded in 2007 by a WWII Veteran and liberated POW, Vets Helping Heroes, Inc. is a National not-for-profit charity with tax exempt status under section 501c(3) of the IRC. Since its founding, Vets Helping Heroes has raised almost $7,000,000 and has sponsored over 300 properly-trained service dogs (Guide Dogs, Service Dogs and Facility Dogs) for wounded American Veterans and Active-Duty Military personnel who can benefit from an assistance dog.
The Mission of our all-volunteer working board, comprised primarily of retired military personnel, is to raise funds to purchase properly-trained service dogs to help the heroes who have worn the uniform of our Country and who have received physical and/or psychological wounds in so doing.
How Our Heroes Benefit
Service dogs provide independence and service 24/7/365. Guide Dogs allow the visually or hearing impaired Veteran to be independent, giving back their sense of being a whole person navigating the world. Service Dogs assist Veterans with mobility and balance issues stand and walk safely and independently; and help those with PTSD and TBI. Facility Dogs provide a source of unconditional love to Veterans who are confined in hospitals or in other facilities for long-term care, as well as on active-duty military bases to provide a needed calming influence.
2nd Lt. Irwin J. Stovroff
44th Bomb Group - 506th Bomb Squad
Stalag Luft I - North III and North I Compounds
The Passion Pit
The Times-Picayune in New Orleans highlighted the John Milliken crew for having seven members present at the 44th BG Reunion, and their story has resounded through a number of veteran publications. The Passion Pit went down at the Falais Pocket near Caen on August 13, 1944. Every member of the crew had an experience that was unique, none more so than that of Bombardier, Irwin J. Stovroff.
Stovroff recalls it thus: "It was to be our 35th, our last scheduled mission, we were to complete our tour. Together we had flown very dangerous missions, many of which were deep into Germany. This trip was just over the Channel, the Falais Pocket in France, a 'milk run.'
"We were on a straight run, and were to drop our bombs on three sites, one third each time. Then BOOM! We got a direct hit at the first target. Numbers one and two engines were on fire. We all bailed out, right into the German front lines. On the way down I threw away my dog tags, not wanting them to know I was Jewish. Our pilot John Milliken, some how on a truck taking us away from the front lines fell thru the canvas cover and escaped, getting to the allied front lines days later."
Photo of Passion Pit going down (photo was taken by a friend and sent to Irwin's parents. Note the tiny white dots - the parachutes.)
"Within a week's time we were taken to a major Interrogation center outside of Frankfort, Germany. I think it was called Wetzler. We were separated and placed in solitaire, and individually taken out for continued interrogations. The German officer, my Interrogator, asked me questions I could not and would not answer. I gave him the usual name, rank and serial number, and told him that was all I had to give, and knew very little else. On my third trip with him, he said, ' I know who you are and what you are (meaning Jewish).' He told me he could save my life, then proceeded to name my father, mother, brother, sister, the grammar school I had attended, even the name of a former girl friend. He then said he lived on Ashland Avenue, next to the girl I was dating pre-war. He had lived on the next street -- Claremont Avenue in Buffalo, New York. He said he remembered being in class with my older sister, and then he informed me that I had been his newspaper boy!! He had come to Germany to be with his grandmother, and stayed. He again said he would help me, and he put a question mark on my records next to religion."
"After solitaire at Dulag Luft, I like all others were packed into a boxcar for a 3 day transport to Stalag Luft I. Our train was strafed by Allied fighters because the Germans did not put POW markings on the train. We were also left in the marshalling yards in Berlin during a bombing raid."
"Later in Stalag Luft #1, on January 19, 1945, I was separated from the main compound of prisoners because I was Jewish. I know the reason we were not killed was because of the courageous speeches of Col. Zemke and Col. Spicer, who warned the German commander that if any American officers were harmed, they would be held responsible. Col. Spicer was put in solitaire and sentenced to death for his speech. He survived until the end of the war."
"When I finally got home after VE Day, I went to where this German traitor lived, but his parents had moved."
Reprinted from merkki.com
"After the Dulag Luft (interrogation), I later found myself with my co-pilot Bill Manierre in a large room. Bill pointed out a beat up and dirty POW who was staring at us. Did I know who it was? I looked at the man and said 'no'. Bill said, 'he must know you' and I replied, 'I can't figure out who he is.'"
"Suddenly Bill exclaimed, 'My God! THAT'S MY BROTHER.' His brother immediately recognized Bill, and they met and embraced."
"The Germans were flabbergasted when they found out this was happening. Major Cy Manierre was a West Point graduate who had been dropped into France, and was working with the French Underground when captured and tortured. He told Bill and me to repeat his story, that he was a member of the Air Corps, had been shot down and picked up by the French Underground. If the Germans knew the truth, he could have been shot as a spy. They believed him, and he was sent to the same camp as Bill and I. Their mother received two telegrams on the same day, 1:00 AM, 1:00 PM on both sons - Missing in Action. "
Stovroff is now a volunteer National Service Officer at West Palm Beach VA Center, working only with ex-POWs to help get pensions and compensations. He has met six ex-POWs that were in his camp. And stranger than fiction, his next door neighbor in Florida was in the same barracks as Stovroff when he was in Stalag Luft #1 "segregated". This man's family owned KATZ DELICATESSEN in New York whose slogan was "Send a Salami to a Soldier In the Army."
Senator John McCain presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Irwin Stovroff in September 2000 - 55 years late.
Spared Death Twice, He Now Helps Ex-POWs
Irwin Stovroff has a collection of war mementos in the office of his Boca Raton home—pictures, documents, medals—but none more striking than a framed photograph of his glass-nosed bomber being shot down behind enemy lines.
Snapped by a crew member of another plane, the picture shows Stovroff’s B-24 Liberator trailing smoke from its two starboard engines as it heads into a nosedive, while far below tiny white dots of 10 parachutes flutter to Earth.
“As I floated down, I thought, ‘What the hell is going to happen to me now?’” recalls the former bombardier. “We landed right in the German front lines.
“Being Jewish, I threw my dog tags away immediately—a good thing because we were all rounded up in no time. They marched us into a cemetery, but the commanding officer wouldn’t let them shoot us. Why? I still don’t know.”
Instead, the soldiers were taken to an interrogation center, held in isolation and grilled one by one.
“After a few days, this S.S. officer comes in and says he knows everything about me: who my father is and my mother’s maiden name, the street where I live, my elementary school, the girl I dated in high school,” Stovroff says. “I asked how he knew so much and he replied, ‘I once lived a few blocks away from you. You used to be my paperboy. I’ll do what I can to help you.’”
Stovroff’s former neighbor in Buffalo, New York, had moved back to Germany before the war broke out. And he might have saved his former paperboy’s life by putting a question mark next to “Jew” on Stovroff’s official identification papers.
Instead of a concentration camp, the lieutenant wound up at a German stalag; still no picnic. “We would have starved if not for the American Red Cross,” he says. He spent about a year in the stalag before being liberated by Russian Cossacks, who rode into the prison camp on horseback with guns blazing, winning Stovroff’s freedom. Stovroff has a lot of stories, and he tells them with enthusiasm, humor and just a touch of pathos—like the time his squadron was attacked by newfangled German jets over the Baltic Sea.
“These things without props came out of nowhere and shot down 15 of our planes,” he says, shaking his head. “No one had ever seen anything like it. One hundred and fifty men … all lost.
“After we completed our mission, I decided that I wasn’t going back up no matter what they did to me. But they gave us a couple days off and we went to London and got drunk and chased girls. By the time the two days were up, we came back saying, ‘Ah, what the heck.’”
Stovroff went on to fly 35 missions, ultimately shot down on the one that was to be his last.
“We had our bags packed to go home and were envisioning parades,” he says with a chuckle. “Instead we ended up in a prison camp.”
After his long overdue return home, Stovroff married. He and his wife Sterra had three kids, and he spent 40 years working for Thomasville Furniture, advancing to international sales manager. The outgoing natural-born salesman was still going strong at 75 when, much to his chagrin, company policy forced him to retire.
Now 79 and living in Boca West, Stovroff helps those who can’t help themselves as a national service officer for American Ex-Prisoners of War. He volunteers three times a week at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in West Palm Beach, helping ex-POWs fill out paperwork for pension, medical care and other benefits.
Last year, he was belatedly awarded the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross, which was pinned on his chest by a fellow ex-POW, U.S. Sen. John McCain. Like a lot of World War II vets, Stovroff says his military experience gave him a perspective of life that has helped him succeed as a civilian.
“After being a POW, you figure what worse can happen?” he says. “It changes your whole attitude. No matter what happens, you’ve already hit bottom. There’s no place to go but up.”
Reprinted from Bocamag.com
Historical Travel Normandy