team picture taken on the first day of practice
in 1942, Don Pfotenhauer is sixth from left in the back
number (14) is only partially visible. Mark Hoskins
is wearing No. 42 in the second row. In many cases, the
Badgers' practice jerseys didn't
match up with their game
Mark Hoskins, from Lancaster, Wisconsin, and Dave Schreiner’s friend
was a starting halfback and the co-captain of the 1942
Badgers. He ended up a B-17 co-pilot in Europe and was
slated to move
over to the left-hand seat after a mission on June 27, 1944.
Pfotenhauer was a sophomore reserve halfback from Escanaba,
Michigan. He was a sergeant with a machine gun unit and
Several Badgers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
This is adapted material from Third Down and a War to Go.
* * *
LANCASTER—Lieut. Mark Hadley Hoskins, star right halfback on
the 1942 Wisconsin
football team, is missing in action over Hungary,
the war department today notified
his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mark
Hoskins, pilot of a Flying Fortress, had been based in Italy. The
message said he had been missing since June 27.
Hoskins and a fellow townsman, Dave Schreiner, now in the
South Pacific with the Marines, made grid history at
the university and
were known as the “Touchdown Twins” after they made good as sophomores.
State Journal, 1944
The word soon came, however, that Hoskins had been able to bail out
fire struck his plane, and after hiding out on a Hungarian farm,
he was captured on
the ground, wound up in the notorious Stalag Luft III, the “Great
The camp had five compounds. Hoskins
was in the South Compound, used for
American officers and largely populated by
airplane crews. Opened in September 1943,
it was the last part of the camp constructed
and was the most secure. Each barracks,
with the floor raised off the ground
to discourage tunneling, had fifteen rooms. When
Hoskins arrived, about eight
Americans were bunking in each room. Later the number
was as high as fifteen.
The Germans told Hoskins and other new arrivals that they would treat escape
harshly, and it wasn’t bluster. After a mass escape by 76 British, Dutch,
prisoners from the North Compound on March 27, 1944, most had
fifty had been shot.
Five hundred prisoners had pitched
in to dig three tunnels, which they named Tom, Dick,
and Harry was the one used for the flight.
As Hoskins quickly discovered, despite
the executions, the Americans in the South Compound
continued their attempts to construct
an escape tunnel of their own.
* * *
At the outset of the Battle of the Bulge, the Americans came under heavy German
suffered significant casualties. Former Badger Don Pfotenhauer’s unit eventually
surrounded. As the men went to sleep one night early in the
battle, “our officers told us to
pray and think of our loved ones at
home,” Pfotenhauer wrote. “We didn’t know who would
tomorrow at that time.”
The next morning, Pfotenhauer’s two remaining guns opened fire
on the Germans. “I could
see them drop and we must’ve hit 15 or 20 of them,” he wrote.
Both the company commander
and a major “left us there, and the rest of the officers
ran around like lost ducks, [except for]
one who tried to organize our mortars
to fire on the tanks.” But there wasn’t enough ammunition,
or men. The odds were too great, the result inevitable. A corporal raised a white flag.
“We broke up our rifles, machine guns, glasses, compasses, and mortars, but I forgot to
destroy my hunting knife, and the damn Jerries got it,” Pfotenhauer wrote.
The Germans forced the Americans to march out.
"I thought of my loved ones at home,” Pfotenhauer wrote.
“How would they take it? Would
they be ashamed of me? Would they be able
to stand up to the shock when I would be
reported MIA? When I thought of
them, tears came to my eyes.”
At Stalag Luft III, Mark Hoskins discovered
the South Compound was a society unto
itself, with the American officers governing.
The Germans held roll call twice a day, and
other than that the prisoners largely
were on their own. The officers ordained that no
breakout could be attempted without approval
from the escape committee, also known
as the “X Committee.”
After the failed escape attempt in spring 1944 by British, Dutch,
prisoners, the American officers ruled that German-speaking soldiers would
at the front of the line in any mass American escape attempts, because they would
have the most chance of surviving on the run. Anyone wanting to try an individual
escape through the fence was supposed to seek permission from the X Committee,
and if approved, he would be given maps, money, and wire cutters.
The head escape officer (code-named “Big X”) at Stalag
Luft III was Lieutenant
Colonel Albert P. Clark of the 31st Fighter Group. Clark had been
a POW since
his plane was shot down over France in July 1942. Hoskins and all
pilots were in awe of him, both because of his status and, more
he was instrumental in the Americans’ largely surreptitious organization.
In his memoir 33 Months as a POW in Stalag Luft III, Clark wrote that the Germans
had tightened up considerably in
the summer of 1944. The Germans, he wrote, suddenly
placed limits on stockpiling food
from Red Cross shipments and began harassing the
prisoners more often with needless roll
calls and inventories of their possessions. Life
at Stalag Luft III, never a picnic,
was getting even tougher.
In addition to the barracks, the
American compound had a separate theater building
where prisoners could gather, put
on shows, or stage other activities to pass the time.
The Germans had allowed the prisoners
to build it themselves, and the construction
took place from October 1943 to
February 1944. The prisoners made the building’s
four hundred seats from Red Cross boxes.
By the time Hoskins was a POW, five months after the theater was completed, the
Americans, under the supervision of the X Committee, had started to tunnel from
the building and under the nearby fence. The tunneling, undertaken in shifts,
painstaking and perilous work, and everyone was painfully aware of the failed
British-led escape attempt—and the retribution.
“The soil there was quite sandy,” Hoskins recalled years later. “As
they would dig,
they would protect the integrity of the tunnel by putting boards along
the roof and
the sides. You had bunkboards in your bunk, and each month or
so they’d come
along with a requisition of so many boards from this one room.
We were sleeping
with fewer and fewer boards all the time. Our mattresses were
filled with wood
shavings and sawdust, so it was more uncomfortable all the time.”
One tricky part of the process was getting rid of sand and dirt from the tunnels.
Prisoners started “projects” above ground just to create an excuse for having
loose soil exposed so they could mix in dirt from the tunnel.
The ostensible goal, of course, was to eventually provide a means of escape,
more realistically—given the slow progress under the conditions and the
mass escape attempt—the project was a way for the prisoners to
their own sense of collective defiance and hope.
For Hoskins, day-to-day
life in camp was a fight against boredom and malnutrition.
Men in each room drew cook duty for a week at a time, and they
“stooges,” or helpers, in one- or two-day stints. The cooks for all fifteen rooms in
barracks had to take turns using the single tiny stove, primarily working with
food from the International Red
Cross. The prisoners learned to make cakes from
ground-up crackers, and the Germans contributed bread—horrible
soup that wasn’t much more than gruel. Occasionally, the Germans would taunt
the prisoners by
presenting the soup with a cow’s head still in the pot. The weekly
Red Cross parcel for each
prisoner included one can of powdered milk, Spam, corned
beef, liver paste, salmon, cheese, margarine, biscuits,
instant coffee, jam, and prunes
or raisins, plus one small box of sugar, two chocolate bars, two bars of soap, and
packs of cigarettes. The diet added up to stubborn cases of dysentery, severe weight
and other problems.
Barter and bribery fueled the camp’s underground economy. Prisoners took
portions of parcels from the Red Cross or from home to the compound’s trading
where they bartered mainly for clothes, food, cigarettes, and reading material.
The Americans followed BBC war news on a homemade radio. “They got the radio
working on the guards,” Hoskins said. “As soon as you could get something
on a guard,
you’d have them by the balls. You’d give them a cigarette, and they
to take cigarettes. You’d get them to take one, then another
the next day. You could
always hold that over them, tell their superiors. So they were
able to get things like
parts of radios. This was a vast group of guys with different
skills. We had radio people
who could make their own radios if they got the works.”
(Cigarettes were so significant as barter, the Germans finally ruled
in late August
that each room could have no more than 500 cigarettes per man on hand.
had to be in a central pool. It was a way to discourage the bribery.)
The other way to assemble a radio, Hoskins recalled, was to have
a prisoner get one
part in a Red Cross parcel and another prisoner
receive another part in a different
parcel. Slowly the men
would accumulate enough parts.
“The bread the Germans issued
was unlike any bread that you ever saw,” Hoskins
said. “There was a lot of
sawdust in it. Well, the prisoners with the radio would hollow
out this bread
and keep their radio in there. Every noon this one guy would turn on
for news. . . . There would be eight or ten runners who would take that news
word of mouth to the different barracks. So we could follow it quite well. We knew
was going on.”
In the camp’s camouflaged language, the men called the radio the “canary” and
the war news “soup.”
On September 11, the Germans ruled that each
prisoner would now receive only
half of a Red Cross parcel. Two weeks later,
the Germans handed out literature
emphasizing that they followed the rules
of war set forth by The Hague Convention
but insinuating that the dastardly Allied
tactics were making the Germans doubt
the wisdom of their civility. The implication: The
executions of the British prisoners
after their capture would be the order of the day if other prisoners
lead. One flyer, reprinted in Clipped
Wings, declared, “Stay in the camp where
will be safe! Breaking out of it now is a damned dangerous act. The chances
preserving your life are almost nil! All police and military guards have been
the most strict orders to shoot on sight all suspected persons. Escaping
camps has ceased to be a sport!”
The prisoners continued to use the
theater virtually every night, which helped
camouflage the ongoing tunneling.
The events included plays, musicals, and
reviews. The prisoners wrote a few
of the shows and staged others after copying
scripts from anthologies. Participants
dressed in women’s clothes for the female roles.
The productions included The Invisible Duke; Bishop’s Candlesticks; Veni, Vidi,
Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse; You Can’t Take
It with You; The Front Page; and
Room Service. Hoskins played a role in the musical Kiss and Tell, which included a
band on stage. He also sang in the camp glee club, which practiced and performed
in the theater.
★ ★ ★
On January 27, Hoskins was in the audience in the South Compound’s theater,
watching a prisoner production of You Can’t Take It with You. Suddenly, at
about 9:30 p.m., the South Compound’s senior American officer, Colonel Charles
Goodrich, stepped onto the stage. He announced the Germans were evacuating
Luft III and said the prisoners had to be ready to march out momentarily.
(Hoskins remembered Goodrich saying
they had an hour to get ready. In his memoirs,
Albert P. Clark said Goodrich announced
that they had a half-hour. Regardless, the
march didn’t begin until about
ninety minutes following Goodrich’s announcement.)
under Marshall G. K. Zhukov were only about twenty miles away.
The Germans didn’t
want the British and American officers freed to rejoin the fighting,
most of the men were emaciated. The evacuation of ten thousand
two thousand Americans, began at 11 p.m. The prisoners
marched in the
bitter cold through the night, dumping prized personal
from home—in the snow along the way in attempts
to lighten their loads and
increase the chances of survival. Many collapsed and
had to be left behind to freeze
The next morning, the prisoners finally were allowed to rest
at the small town
of Grosselten. They had walked about twenty miles. “We
were at a place with
some barns, and we slept in the hay,” Hoskins said. “They
got us out the next
day, and we traveled a good ways until we came to a town called
[An alternative spelling, including in Clipped Wings, the remarkable
yearbook-type work published after the war was Maskau.] They put us
in a glass factory. The workers were all gone, but it was heated because of
the fires from the glass machines. A friend of mine from my room slept
night on the floor of a glass furnace.”
resumed the march the next day and made it to Spremberg, a small
German town that
served as headquarters for a German tank unit.
The prisoners were gathered in a
square and encircled by tanks.
“I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, this is it,’”
Hoskins said. “I thought they were
going to use those tanks on us.
But they just used them to keep us from doing
The prisoners jumped and moved to keep from freezing. Then they
loaded onto trains. The cars were packed, and the stench was choking.
“Those cars were called ‘forty and eight,’” Hoskins said. “They were
cars made to carry forty men or eight horses. They a lot more than that in
each car. They must have marked ‘Red Cross’ on the top, or something like
that, because they had notified the bombers we were on this train so they
us. And they didn’t.
“There were a certain number of guards on the train,
not one per car.
The train would have to stop every three or four hours to let
out to go to the bathroom. The trouble was there weren’t enough guards
to open all the cars simultaneously. They’d start at one end of the train,
by the time they got to the other end, everybody was ready to go
you’d be crapping in the snow and have to finish and have
to hustle back
in the car.”
On the third night of their journey, the prisoners arrived at
twenty-two miles northeast of Munich. The prisoners had to stay in the
boxcars until the next morning, when they were moved to nearby Stalag
Stalag VII-A made Stalag Luft III seem like the Waldorf-Astoria.
It had been
built to house 10,000. Eventually the camp held 110,000
prisoners, including 30,000 Americans.
Tents were wedged between
barracks, and most of the prisoners didn’t have beds and
they could find space. But news of Allied successes filtered
into the camp,
and the prisoners were hopeful they would be liberated—unless
Germans violated rules of war by staging mass executions.
One day, Hoskins sat on the steps outside his ramshackle barracks.
A fellow Kriegie walked by, stopped, and did a double-take. “Mark?”
was one of Hoskins’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers, John
a B-26 pilot who had been shot down in early 1945 and
moved around to several camps.
He had arrived at Stalag VII-A
the day before. “He had been a Kriegie longer than I had,
was very thin,” Merrill recalled. “But he was the same old Mark.”
the next few weeks, the two Phi Delts passed some of the time
talking over old times—and fraternity brothers Dave
Crazylegs Hirsch. Hoskins was frustrated because he knew little about
how his pal, Schreiner,
was faring in the Pacific. Allied air traffic in the
area was heavy, mostly involving P-47 and P-51 fighters
German targets and B-17s heading to Munich. Artillery thundered
in the distance. Red Cross
parcels were temporarily delayed, so for
a time the German gruel was the prisoners’ only sustenance.
Germans became more lackadaisical in their control of the
prisoners, who could wander from compound
to compound. In late
April, the artillery barrages began flying over the camp, toward
“I had never heard artillery close
up before,” Hoskins said. “It
was scary as
hell, kind of a shriek or like a sheet being ripped.”
the second night of overhead artillery, the prisoners heard German
the camp. In the morning, most of the guards were gone.
On Sunday, April 29, some prisoners
climbed onto the roofs of the buildings
and watched American tanks closing
in. They took cover during the ensuing
one-hour battle outside the camp between the Americans and
Germans. In mid-afternoon, tanks from the Army’s 47th Tank Battalion rolled
Another of Hoskins’s and Merrill’s fraternity
brothers, Jack Dewitt, was outside
the gates, with a unit held in reserve. Dewitt, in fact, was the former Phi Delta
Theta president from Lancaster who had been so instrumental in landing
Hoskins and Dave
Schreiner as pledges.
Dewitt knew his friend Hoskins was in there somewhere, and
inside to look for him before reluctantly deciding it would be a long shot.
He couldn’t take the chance of his unit being ordered to move while he
Ten months after his mission to
Budapest, Hoskins was liberated.
Hitler committed suicide in his
Berlin bunker the next day. And the
day after that, General George S. Patton Jr. visited the Americans at
“There was no place for us to go,”
Hoskins said. So, after several more days at
the camp, he and many of the prisoners
were taken to Englestadt, about fifty
miles away. “It took about three or days for the planes
to come and get us,” he said.
“[At Englestadt] we went into a factory that manufactured
alpine equipment for
the German army. There were hundreds of thousands of
skis there. We discovered
that if you put the skis between two abutments, that would
give you a place to sleep.
So we slept on the skis for a couple of nights. Finally, the
The planes took the men to Rheims, France, where they received much-needed
medical attention. Hoskins weighed 135 pounds, down 55 from his playing
“We were given shots, and they started filling us with
The war was over in Europe.
★ ★ ★
Hoskins and his teammate Don Pfotenhauer could have compared
prison camp experiences and found themselves nodding in recognition
of the similarities.
As the allies closed in on Stalag IX-A, where Pfotenhauer was
the Germans’ actions became even more bizarre. The camp authorities
finally declared that if four hundred Americans volunteered to be marched
farther east, presumably to be used as pawns in upcoming negotiations, the
remain behind for likely liberation by the advancing U.S.
The healthiest felt it was their duty to volunteer, so Pfotenhauer did.
“We weren’t trying to be heroes,” he later wrote in his journal. Facing
uncertainty, Pfotenhauer read Bible psalms the night before leaving.
The next day, March 29, when the Americans and their German escorts
the closest road, the guards disappeared. An astounded Pfotenhauer
and the other Americans
were free. “We were so happy, we cried,” he wrote.
After troops from the Third U.S. Army arrived on March 30, the Americans
to Stalag IX-A, which the Germans had deserted. The tables
turned: German prisoners were brought
there by U.S. troops, and
Pfotenhauer didn’t mind being assigned guard duty. “I
had a Jerry rifle [and]
ammo, and was just waiting for one of them to make a break,”
The liberated Mark Hoskins returned to the United States on
a ship, landed
in New York, and caught a train to Chicago, where he was reunited with his
wife. Mary was ecstatic to see her husband. “I got there before the train
in, and it was terrific,” Mary recalled. She had known he had lost weight,
but still she was shocked when she saw how thin he truly was.
She also had to break something to him: His brother, Charles,
man at their wedding, had been killed in Luxembourg
while serving with an infantry regiment
with Patton’s Third Army.
Like Mark, Charles had originally been reported as missing
but that report—in early 1945—was followed in a couple of weeks by
confirmation that he was listed among those killed. Mark’s family had
decided not to tell him about his brother’s death in a letter.
Mark met with his surviving brother, Billy, at the Great Lakes Naval
Training Station, and he and Mary took the Zephyr to Dubuque, where
they met up
with his parents. Then Mark arrived in Lancaster, and he
and Mary stayed at his parents’
home, by then the residential part of
the city’s funeral home.
One of the first stops he made was to visit Dave Schreiner’s parents.