November 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

Doxsee Talks about POW Experience in Slaughterhouse Five with Vonnegut

Parkersburg News and Sentinel reporter Jody Murphy captured the tale of Dr. Gifford Doxsee, a U.S. Army veteran and former Ohio University Professor of History. Doxsee spoke on Veterans Day at the Belpre Senior Center about his time as a POW in a German camp in the later days of World War II. “He was part of a large group of soldiers who surrendered to the Nazis after being surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge,” Murphy wrote.

Gifford Doxsee

Gifford Doxsee

Doxsee’s division was deployed to west Germany five days before the Nazis launched their offensive. After several days of fighting, Doxsee’s unit was surrounded by Germans.

The Nazi commander issued an ultimatum; surrender or die. Doxsee said his commander sacrificed his career instead of their lives and surrendered.

The POWs were taken to a camp near Dresden. Doxsee was held in Slaughterhouse Five alongside fellow soldier Kurt Vonnegut. Doxsee said Vonnegut, the tallest man in the group, served as an interpreter between the Americans and the Nazi captors.

Vonnegut would later write about the experiences of the POWs in his critically acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five.

Doxsee said as long as they obeyed the Nazi guards, they were treated well. The guards were older men in their 40, 50s and older who were too old to fight, Doxsee said.

“Our problem was lack of food,” he said.

The POWs spent several weeks in Dresden before moving to a village in the Czech Republic.

“We were woken up and told the Russians were coming from the east and the Allies were coming from the west,” he said. “They were worried we would be shelled.”

The POWs—already weak—marched 35 miles in two days to the village. Still, there was no food. Doxsee said they survived eating grass and dandelions. He lost about 50 pounds during his captivity.

Doxsee said the POWs retained hope throughout their imprisonment. A soldier made a short-wave radio out of a can and they were able to pick up BBC broadcasts to hear the progress of the war rather than rely on the lies of their Nazi captors.

“It kept our hope,” he said.

Read the full article.

Read the OHIO Today story “A Few Good Men.” The article also features the late George Klare, a decorated POW and former Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

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