THE PRISON YARD ROUNDTABLE:
US Army Ray Dyer, POW in Germany 30 Days
For the first 10 days of 40 Days of Honor we focused on young men from our area who gave their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. And while Memorial Day is truly meant to honor their sacrifices, there are many still living in our area who served with significance in some of the hardest circumstances any man could face - and lived to tell the story.
Four men sit at a round table. Their conversation is fascinating. I am sitting there with them, but my job is to be as quiet as possible. Two men are on my right and two are on my left. On my right is a pair of World War 2 veterans, Ray Dyer and Gerald Kidd. Ray is 86 years old. He has a black ballcap that proudly announces his WW2 veteran status. He lives in Longview. Gerald is 88 years old and lives in Pontotoc. Between them they spent nearly 6 months as POWs (Prisoners of War) in Germany. How they made it through everything is an amazing tale of long train rides, cramped quarters, and improbable risks. Their stories will make you laugh and cry.
On my left is a pair of Vietnam veterans, Smitty Harris and Gene Smith. Smitty is 83 years old and lives in Tupelo. Gene is from West Point and at age 77, the youngster of the group. As they listen to the World War 2 vets share their story, two things are obvious. First is that the young veterans of Vietnam admire and appreciate the old veterans of World War 2. Second, both Smitty and Gene identify with Ray and Gerald’s stories as POWs. They identify with them because they had been there, too. Both Smitty and Gene were Air Force fighter pilots in the 1960s, shot down over North Vietnam. Between the two of them they have a combined 14 years as POWs. How they made it through everything is an amazing tale of sheer survival. Their stories will blow your mind, break your heart, and leave you speechless.
And in the end of everyone’s story, you will feel just like I did sitting at the table listening to them talk: just be quiet and listen, these men have earned the right to talk.
Ray Dyer's Story
Ray Dyer spent the shortest amount of time in captivity out of the whole group – 30 days. When he hears the stories of the other men who spent longer, he just shakes his head and says “Oh man, oh man”. But his story is no less compelling than theirs. Out of everyone at the table, Ray was the youngest when he was captured. Ray joined the Army at age 18 and by age 19 found himself in France shortly after D-Day. Tucked into a foxhole in a French field, Ray and his friend could hear the sounds of German voices just a few yards away. Moments later an artillery shell rained down, wounding both the Germans and Ray. To this day he doesn't know which side the artillery came from. Ray suffered damage to his right leg and would ultimately be sent back to England to recover, spending almost 6 months "all laid up".
Ray was sent back to the front line on December 29, 1944. It was two weeks after the Battle of the Bulge had begun, and for the most part the German push had been thwarted. The Allies were clearly in control and the war's conclusion was almost inevitable. But there was still fighting left to do and Ray's division saw plenty of action. On one fateful day near the Rhine River, Ray and a few members of his unit found themselves isolated from their unit during combat. They were quickly surrounded by Germans, who quickly carried them back to the German line.
For the next few days, Ray was made to walk mile after mile. Their group picked up new POWs all along the way, until the group numbered nearly 900. The 900 men were then led to a train and stuffed into cattle cars. The ordeal they faced on the train was brutal. For the next 6 days and 6 nights, they would slowly make their way into the heart of Germany.
Ray recalled the cramped quarters like this:
"You had no room to move. Everyone was just stuffed in their together. All you could do to relieve your legs was squat down real small. The smell was just awful. The Germans gave us a 5-gallon bucket for all of us to use as a toilet. When it got full we would pass it to the edge of the train and someone would empty out of the small slats in the side. Each night, the Germans pulled that train into a tunnel to hide us. It was pitch black. They would feed us in the tunnels, too. A jug of water for each boxcar and a small piece of meat. That was all we ate."
The dangers didn't just come from the Germans, either. Ray remembered what it was like to hear the sound of American fighter planes attacking the trains as well.
"Ever so often you would hear the sound of a P-47 Thunderbolt strafing the train. We were all scared to death that we were going to be blown up by our own people. But it always seemed they were aiming for the engine and most times they'd get it. Then we'd just sit there until the Germans could get a new engine to pick us up and keep us moving."
Ray Dyer's train ultimately stopped at a small German town. He doesn't recall the name of the town. The prisoners were guarded by a group of German soldiers in a makeshift pen. The commander of the prison told them that if they tried to flee, they would be shot. But if they just remained put, in short time the war would be over and they would go home. White truce flags were raised all over town and the prisoners placed in a visible position. They were being used by the Germans to keep American planes from attacking. Ray said he was never mistreated by any of the German guards. He was the only one at the table to say that, a product of being taken prisoner so close to the war's end. One of his guards, an old German World War I veteran in his 60s told Ray that if he could get close enough to the American lines, he would walk right over and surrender. He then snapped his meat rations in half and shared some with Ray.
After a short time in the camp, the American army liberated them and Ray was processed with the other prisoners. His ordeal lasted 30 days.
Want to pay tribute to the soldier in today's post?
Then post your comments using the form below. All comments will be reviewed before posting. Thank you for taking part in 40 Days of Honor.
RaNae Vaughn Iuka, MS
Thank you, Mr. Dyer, for your sacrifice. Thirty days is 30 days too long! Thank you for sharing your story. We will never forget!
LACY CRUM WALNUT,MS.
THANK YOU ALL FOR SERVING OUR HOME.I APPREICATE YOU SO MUCH.MAY GOD CONTINUE TO BLESS EACH OF YOU.
Debbie Dyer Longview Community
This is my father-in-law. I have known him 12 years now. He is a man of honor in his everyday life and loves his fellow veterans. His support for the VA is tremendous. He and his wife, Ms. Annie got to be in Washington DC when the Veterans' of WWII Monument was dedicated and came home for his 50th Wedding Anniversary. He never wastes a minute of sun light during the day. He is always out using whatever the time God has given him to get out and do each day. I am proud of him as my father-in-law and the strong standard he holds for his God, Country and family.
Pam Presley Cousar New Albany MS
Thank you for sharing , So proud of your service !