Elmer Nelson Horey, the son of Leon and Amy (Merrill) Horey of Fredonia, New York, enlisted in the United States Army Coast Artillery Corps on February 22, 1942 at the age of 24. Elmer was a schoolteacher, and he taught kindergarten through eighth grade in rural schools in and around the Fredonia area. At the time of Elmer’s enlistment, his older brother, George, was serving as a ship fitter in the Seabees in the Pacific Theater, and his older brother, Kenneth, was serving in the United States Army as a Private First Class. Elmer was soon accepted into a United States Army Air Cadet training program, and he left Fort Niagara for a technical school at Kessler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi in mid-1942. He officially became an Air Cadet in July 1943, and he then trained in aerial gunnery in Fort Meyers, Florida.
On December 11, 1941, four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ declaration of war against Japan, Germany declared war against the United States. Elmer was sent overseas in January 1944 and arrived in Great Britain on February 18. He served as a gunner in a bomber, and by April 1944, he had been promoted to Sergeant and had engaged in five missions over “enemy territory.” After April 9 of that year, though, the letters home stopped. Elmer regularly wrote to his family–offering his locations and details of his missions as he could–but he was reported missing-in-action when the plane on which he was one of the crew was forced down in Germany on April 11. Elmer’s mom, Amy, went over two months without word regarding her son’s fate–a newspaper article in the local paper describes this time, “His mother and other relatives and friends are hopeful that he will be reported a prisoner later.”
In mid-June 1944, Amy received a telegram from Staff Sergeant Frank L. Batterson of Everett, Washington–Batterson had met Elmer in a German prison camp before he was sent home with a contingent of prisoners, and he asked Amy to write to him for more information. She immediately did so, and on June 14, 1944, Batterson wrote back:
Dear Mrs. Horey,
When I left the German prison camp May 5, some of the boys gave me their home addresses and asked me to send their love to their folks and let them know they were in good health and spirits. I didn’t know your boy very well but do know that he was well when I left there.
The boys in the camp are well supplied with army clothes and toilet articles. The Red Cross has sent them bulk issues of these things along with food parcels. The food supply is not too bad but the boys asked me to urge their next of kin to send food parcels to help with what they receive from the Red Cross.
The boys receive musical instruments furnished by the Swedish Y.M.C.A. They have plays and they play ball. They have a library and read a great deal…
On June 23, 1944, ten days after Batterson’s letter was sent, Amy received official notification from the Adjutant General’s Department in Washington, D.C., confirming the unofficial report that Elmer was captured and placed in a German prison camp: “Report just received through International Red Cross that your son, Sgt. Elmer N. Horey, is a prisoner of war of the German government.” Amy did not receive word regarding Elmer’s definite location until February 16, 1945, when the Provost Marshall’s office in Washington, D.C., informed her via telegram that her son was a prisoner-of-war at Stalag Luft III, 17-B, near Krems, Austria.
“In the middle of the beautiful Austrian countryside of rolling hills and thick forest stood an ugly place–the sprawling eyesore and den of misery known as Stalag Luft 17-B. Double rows of barbed-wire fencing surrounded low-slung prison barracks and a dirt compound. Helmeted Nazi guards with machine guns manned towers at the edges, waiting to shoot dead any prisoner who crossed the warning wire that ran a few feet inside the fencing…” After being shot down and captured in a mission over Germany, Elmer and his fellow crewmen were sent to Dulag Luft, a “processing center” in Frankfurt, for interrogation. Non-commissioned officers, including Elmer, were then separated from commissioned officers and eventually packed into boxcars and sent to Stalag Luft III, 17-B, a prison camp six kilometers northwest of Krems, Austria.
“A series of long, single-story buildings housed the fliers. Each one was divided into halves shared by 150 to 240 men (and sometimes many more), who also shared straw-filled, flea-ridden mattresses in triple-deck bunks, a single stove with scant fuel (54 pounds of coal per week), wash basins into which cold water ran only a few hours each day, and a single indoor latrine for use after dark (for daytime use, there were multi-hole latrines a short walk from the barracks). Hot water and showers were as rare as toothbrushes, combs, and toilet paper. Together with diarrhea and dysentery, the poor hygiene made life at Stalag 17-B precarious.”
According to the Geneva Convention, non-commissioned officers were not required to work, “so they filled their days with chat, occasional visits to the camp’s makeshift library, exercise, and thoughts of how to stay a step ahead of hunger, depression, and the guards.” The officers received shoebox-sized parcels from the Red Cross that contained canned tuna, cheese, dehydrated milk, liver paste, raisins, margarine, sugar, cigarettes or condensed chocolate bars, but while the Germans were expected to stock enough of these parcels to provide “one week of sustenance for each American,” many parcels disappeared en route and, according to one officer, only allowed “a man to live…at ten percent over starvation.” In March 1945, Amy received a postcard from Elmer dated December 31; the message in his handwriting follows:
The old year is rapidly drawing to a close. I might say that it has been the most confined and closely guarded of my life. Everything seems to be quite alright but we are hoping for the better things of life to come our way soon.
On April 8, 1945, the American officers were told to gather their possessions and prepare to move out–4,000 American prisoners from Stalag 17-B were then ordered to march west as the Allied forces advanced into Germany and German-occupied areas (an estimated 200 sick prisoners remained behind and were liberated by the Russians a month later). The officers, including Elmer, were liberated by the 13th Armored Division on May 3, 1945; Elmer sent a cablegram home on May 23 in which he assured the family that he was, “safe and well; hope to see you soon. Love and kisses.” Elmer arrived in New York on Sunday, June 2 and was reunited with his family soon after. He returned to teaching elementary school and junior high in Fredonia and married Bertha Marie Fiebelkorn, the daughter of Arthur and Genevieve (Seybold) Fiebelkorn, on September 2, 1946. Elmer was awarded the Prisoner of War Medal for his service; all of Amy’s sons survived the war and made it back home.