T/Sgt. Harold William Giesler

Radio Operator, Hautman Crew

POW

Harold Giesler, my dad, was born to George Giesler and Maggie (Warren) Giesler on August 1, 1921 in rural Redwood County, Minnesota. He was the second youngest of eight children (four boys and four girls). The family farm was located between Lucan and Revere, and was about 12 miles from Walnut Grove. He was married to Fern VanderLinden on May 8, 1942, and was later taken in the largest draft in Redwood County during WWll. He was sworn in to the Army on September 4, 1942.

He attended gunnery school in Laredo, Texas, followed by radio operator school in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was ultimately assigned as radio operator on the Hautman crew. He flew 18 successful missions with Hautman. The Kassel Mission was his his 19th.

On this mission Hautman was piloting a B-24J nicked Mairzy Doats. The ship sustained heavy damage to the tail section and rudders during the initial fighter attack. A direct hit from a fighter canon dislodged the number 4 engine, causing it to turn 90 degrees and slam into the number 3 engine at full velocity. Both engines fell to earth leaving gaping holes on the leading edge of the right wing. Unable to keep up with the rest of the squadron and losing altitude at the rate of 300 feet per minute, Hautman headed to the Southwest. He was able to keep the ship aloft for about 55 minutes, but was finally done in near Wetzler, Germany where the Mairzy Doats encountered low level anti aircraft fire. The bail out order was given, and dad was able to parachute safely to earth, where he was apprehended by the Germany Army almost immediately.

Most of the captured fliers were detained for interrogation at Dulag Luft near Oberursal, Germany. From there, they were sent to Dulag Luft at Wetzler, Germany for about a week, where they were processed and assigned to permanent POW camps. Dad and most of the Kassel Mission enlisted men were sent by train to Stalag Luft lV near Gross Tychow, Poland.

On February 6, 1945 the prisoners of Stalag Luft lV (about 11,000) were evicted from camp and began an 86 day forced march to the Southwest, as the Russian Army was advancing from the East (see maps below). The men broke up into groups of 300 to 400, and began the march that would cover some 600 miles. Dad’s little group walked all the way to Fallingbostel and then back to the Northeast, to near Lubeck, Germany. On May 2, 1945 they were liberated by the British.

Dad returned to the U.S. and was discharged from active duty on September 29, 1945. He eventually settled, and raised a family, in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. After a career in sales, he retired and bought a home on Lake Osakis in Douglas County, where he lived until his death on April 4, 1996. He is buried in the West Evergreen Cemetery in Osakis, Minnesota.

Text contributed by Duane Giesler, Morgan, Minnesota, 21 March 2017