Salute: World War II Veteran Glen Weiss
Glen Weiss grew up on the family ranch near Mud Butte, South Dakota, son of Charles and Elizabeth (Ingalls) Weiss. His mother was a true pioneer like her famous cousin, Laura (Ingalls) Wilder. She was in her mid-twenties and had not married, so she decided she was a confirmed ‘old maid’ and ventured west from her hometown of Colton, South Dakota to homestead in Meade County. Elizabeth’s father Albert declared that she was not going to go out to that God-forsaken country alone, so he brought his wife, Rosa, sons Lawrence and Walter and daughter May all west to homestead near his daughter.
Here Elizabeth met Charlie Weiss, and they were married in 1912. Glen was born in 1916 and grew up siblings Edith, Clair, Dorwin, Carole and Joyce, helping his parents on the ranch and running the sheep wagon to care for the family’s large flock of sheep. Glen attended country schools and graduated from Faith High School. He spent two years at South Dakota School of Mines prior to joining the U.S. Army in 1940. Due to the war in Europe and Asia, Glen knew he would be drafted if he didn’t volunteer, even though he would have preferred to stay on the ranch and herd sheep. He soon transferred to the Army Air Corps, initially planning to use his skills as a mechanic. Testing, however, indicated he had the talent to be a bombardier, so he was soon in flight training for his new role.
Glen married a neighbor girl, Clarice “Kay” Swenson June 5, 1942. Kay was also a graduate of Faith High School and had a first year teaching certificate from Black Hills Teachers College. Her older sister Margaret “Muggs” Swenson was a classmate of Glen’s. When Kay was about twelve, Glen had come calling for Margaret to take her to a tent show, but Margaret had already gone with someone else. Kay piped up: “I’ll go!” Kay’s parents trusted Glen so they gave their permission, but he was not excited about the prospect of taking his date’s kid sister to town. “Well, whatever, I guess I’ll take her,” was his response to this unplanned ‘first date’ with his future wife!
After their marriage, Kay tagged along with Glen from base to base, a practice that was not encouraged but was nonetheless common among Army wives. In a bit of Divine intervention, Kay was sitting in a bus station not knowing where to go next when a woman from the town came in, sized her up, and asked Kay if she’d like to board in her home. Kay knew that if she simply couldn’t find a place to stay near Glen she could always go home to South Dakota, but she managed to stay close to him until he was shipped overseas.
Glen left for base camp in England in November, 1943, and Kay went home to Meade County to teach country school and help on her parents ranch again. Kay and Muggs each had a school that winter; Muggs was teaching the Fees, Overland and Sternad children at the Tama School, and Kay taught the Allen, Lehman, Price, Schleuning and Sinkey children at East Pine School, located a mile or so north of Opal, South Dakota. The sisters spent weekends at their parents’ home until the weather turned vicious, and repeated blizzards made travel across the prairie nearly impossible.
Glen was stationed in England and as bombardier of his flight crew began flying on bombing missions over Germany. He had a bit of a close call while in London. While waiting in a crowded station for a ride on the subway train, Glen got pushed and fell onto the track. Fortunately both hands landed on the cold rail and he missed the electric rail. His friends managed to pull him off without him getting run over by the train or electrocuted!
January 11, 1944, their B-17 took off on a mission to wipe out munitions factories in Germany. Apparently the enemy had a lot of information, because they took every plane out of the sky that day.
It was only Glen’s third mission. He had written in his diary the night before: “Maximum effort tomorrow. Big raid.”
When Glen’s plane was hit, the gun grip was shot out of his hand and three of the fingers on his left hand were shot off. He and his crew mates had to bail out and parachuted from the plane. Glen was bleeding badly from his wounded hand, so he pulled his cord sooner than normal because he feared he might pass out. He and fellow crew members landed in a field and were met by German boys with pitchforks. Their young captors marched the soldiers to their Grandma’s house where Grandma washed and bound up Glen’s injured hand before they were turned over to the German authorities.
Glen later said, “We never could have any real hard feelings for the German people. They were just people like we were.”
He of course did not like Hitler or the Gestapo but felt that most of the people had been sucked into the war.
Because of his injury, Glen spent some time in a German hospital where he was cared for by a surgeon from South Africa. With his one good hand, Glen was soon helping the surgeon with other patients. The surgeon told Glen that he would make a good surgeon; no doubt this was due to Glen’s ranch background, where he had pulled lambs and developed good diagnostic skills working with the livestock.
Meanwhile, Kay received the telegram that told her Glen was missing in action about the time the weather turned nasty back in South Dakota. Kay was grateful for her job and the children keeping her busy while she said her prayers day to day and kept on doing what needed to be done while she waited for news.
Glen was soon interrogated by the Germans.
“When they marched us out that morning we thought we were going to be shot,” he later told his wife.
It did have a happier result: during the interrogation a photo was taken that eventually made it into the Stars and Stripes, where a friend of Glen’s recognized him and sent the clipping to Kay. Kay didn’t receive it until spring, thanks to the continuous blizzards and the deep snow that held western South Dakota in its grip for months.
Even though the U.S. Mail was not traveling in rural Meade County, gossip still managed to get through. In March, Muggs heard through the ‘grapevine’ that Glen had been killed. It took the sisters a bit to figure out how the rumor started, but realized that it had started with news that Clarence Weiss from Newell had died in a German prison camp. Knowing that Kay’s parents had probably heard the same rumor, the girls took off horseback across the snow-covered prairie to let them know that the word about Glen was only a rumor. Wearing nearly every piece of clothing they could get on, they were so well-bundled they could barely mount, but they braved the bitter winds, following trails where neighbors had hauled hay and breaking trail through the deep drifts where there was no trail to follow.
After riding for most of the day, they finally made it to the Swensons’ place, where they found an entire 100 pound flour sack filled with mail. It had been nearly six weeks since the last delivery! Unfortunately, there was still no further word from Glen among all those letters.
After the interrogation, Glen was interred in Stalag Luft I near the town of Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. There the POWs lost an average of thirty pounds apiece on the meager rations. German bread contained large amounts of sawdust. One prisoner recalled a loaf falling off the bread wagon and not even getting a dent in it when the wheel ran over it. German cheese: the prisoners joked that the smell would kill the rats in the barracks; the taste of it, in all seriousness, would make a man vomit. German margarine, which they considered completely inedible. Mostly the German rations consisted of potatoes and other vegetables such as cabbage, parsnips, beets or turnips, thin barley soup and a small amount of meat—usually horsemeat.
“If not for the Red Cross packages I don’t think we’d have made it,” Glen told Kay. “We were starving, but so were the civilians in the area.”
Red Cross packages contained a box of prunes or raisins, a can of Klim (condensed milk), a D-bar, cigarettes, crackers and a can of Spam. During September, October, and November, 1944, the Red Cross supplies ran low. German rations were dwindling to around 800 calories per man per day. For the month of March, 1945, food became so scarce that American MPs were placed around the garbage cans in the camp to prevent the starving prisoners from eating the contents and becoming ill. Finally, in April, a Red Cross shipment came through and the men had sufficient food again until the end of the war.
Communication was difficult during this time to say the least. Mail coming to Stalag Luft I was censored at Stalag Luft III. Some pieces of mail received at the camp had been in transit six or seven months. Glen was allowed to write to his wife and his mother, and the two women shared what news they received with each other. Glen and Kay’s daughter Edi (Weiss) Holzbauer still has the letters they wrote each other during Glen’s imprisonment.
“We were such rotten little kids,” Edi laughed. “My siblings and I would read them and giggle over their endearments. ‘Oh, my dearest darling…’ They were full of a lot of black lines where they had been censored.”
Each soldier was given a diary when they were interred, but Glen did not write anything in his until the day they were liberated. Edi believes that this was because he didn’t want to risk the Germans getting any information out of him.
From the camp, Glen could see the steeple of a church in Barth. That bit of beauty was a sight that gave him hope throughout his imprisonment.
The men in the camp did their best to keep morale up. One of Glen’s fellow prisoners was an architect, and he helped the men design floor plans for houses to build for their families when they got back home. Another man was a salesman for Wear-Ever aluminum cookware; he sold his fellow prisoners all pans. Somehow, all of his orders arrived right after the men got home! Glen ordered a griddle for his wife and a turkey roaster for his mother, and Edi still has them in her kitchen.
There were orders from Hitler to kill all the POWs near the end of the war, but the camp leadership did not carry them out. In May 1945, the Russian army drew near Stalag Luft I, and one day the German guards simply left. They mayor of Barth, fearing the Allies, took his entire family into a bunker outside of town and committed suicide, killing his family too.
With the Germans gone, American and British Senior Officers took up command of the camp, and then the Russians came.
Glen finally wrote in his diary.
They tore the doors off the camp and said, ‘Go to town and have fun, boys.’ I didn’t go though, I just went and walked in the woods.
American troops soon came and Glen and his fellow prisoners were evacuated and flown to England. From there they returned to the United States. He flew to Minneapolis, and Kay took a bus to meet him there before they returned home to Meade County.
There they rented a place between their parents’ places and began ranching. That winter Glen and his brother made a trip back East River to buy ear corn to feed the sheep, and saw a place advertised for sale near his mother’s home town of Colton. Kay wasn’t too keen on leaving their families so far behind, but they made the move in 1946. For the first few years, Glen farmed with a team of horses. They also raised sheep and for many years fattened lambs that Glen’s dad shipped them.
Glen and Kay raised four children on the farm: Margaret (Mike Tramontina), Elaine (Scott Hendrickson), Edith ‘Edi’ (Owen Holzbauer), and Joel (Carol). In 1969 Glen took a job with the Farmers’ Elevator in Colton, using his mechanical abilities to operate their mobile mill. He did this for about ten years before retiring. He also served on the local school board and the church board of Colton United Methodist Church where he was a member.
Glen passed away in 1992. He was Commander of Legion Post 206, Colton, South Dakota. After his funeral one of his friends told Edi, “Oh, if I could only be half the man your dad was I would be happy.”
“There are two kinds of people,” Edi said. “Some go through hardships and are crushed by it. Others accept hardships as part of life and rise up stronger because of it. My parents were both so strong. I’m proud of my dad for his service to our country.”