42BadgersBWnames.jpg

In this team picture taken on the first day of practice

in 1942, Don Pfotenhauer is sixth from left in the back

row. His 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

numbers. 

 

 

Mark Hoskins, from Lancaster, Wisconsin, and Dave Schreiner’s friend

since childhood, 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.

 

Don Pfotenhauer was a sophomore reserve halfback from Escanaba,

Michigan. He was a sergeant with a machine gun unit and one of

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, Lancaster.

 

Lieut. Hoskins, pilot of a Flying Fortress, had been based in Italy. The

message said he had been missing since June 27.

 

Lieut. 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.

      Wisconsin State Journal, 1944

 

The word soon came, however, that Hoskins had been able to bail out after German

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 Escape” camp.


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 attempts

harshly, and it wasn’t bluster. After a mass escape by 76 British, Dutch, and Norwegian

prisoners from the North Compound on March 27, 1944, most had been recaptured—and

fifty had been shot.


 Five hundred prisoners had pitched in to dig three tunnels, which they named Tom, Dick,

and Harry, 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 fire and

suffered significant casualties. Former Badger Don Pfotenhauer’s unit eventually found itself

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

be alive 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,

 equipment, 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, and Norwegian 

prisoners, the American officers ruled that German-speaking soldiers would be

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 the later-arriving

pilots were in awe of him, both because of his status and, more importantly, because

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, was

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, 

but more realistically—given the slow progress under the conditions and the 

previous mass escape attempt—the project was a way for the prisoners to 

preserve 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 were assigned

“stooges,” or helpers, in one- or two-day stints. The cooks for all fifteen rooms in

a 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 bread—and a

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 five

packs of cigarettes. The diet added up to stubborn cases of dysentery, severe weight

loss, and other problems.


Barter and bribery fueled the camp’s underground economy. Prisoners took unwanted

portions of parcels from the Red Cross or from home to the compound’s trading post,

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 by

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 weren’t supposed

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. The rest

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

the BBC for news. . . . There would be eight or ten runners who would take that news

by word of mouth to the different barracks. So we could follow it quite well. We knew

what 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 followed their

lead. One flyer, reprinted in Clipped Wings, declared, “Stay in the camp where

you will be safe! Breaking out of it now is a damned dangerous act. The chances

of preserving your life are almost nil! All police and military guards have been

given the most strict orders to shoot on sight all suspected persons. Escaping

from prison 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, Vici;

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

 G. Goodrich, stepped onto the stage. He announced the Germans were evacuating 

Stalag 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.)


Russian forces 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, 

even though most of the men were emaciated. The evacuation of ten thousand

prisoners, including two thousand Americans, began at 11 p.m. The prisoners 

marched in the bitter cold through the night, dumping prized personal

belongings—including letters 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 to death.


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 Moskau.

[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

that night on the floor of a glass furnace.”

 

 They 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

anything.”


The prisoners jumped and moved to keep from freezing. Then they were

loaded onto trains. The cars were packed, and the stench was choking.


“Those cars were called ‘forty and eight,’” Hoskins said. “They were freight

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

wouldn’t attack 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 the men

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,

 and by the time they got to the other end, everybody was ready to go

again. Here 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 Moosburg,

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

VII-A. 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 slept wherever

they could find space. But news of Allied successes filtered into the camp,

and the prisoners were hopeful they would be liberated—unless the

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?”

It was one of Hoskins’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers, John

Merrill, 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, and he

was very thin,” Merrill recalled. “But he was the same old Mark.”

 

For the next few weeks, the two Phi Delts passed some of the time

talking over old times—and fraternity brothers Dave Schreiner and

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 attacking

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.

 

 The 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

Moosburg.


 “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.”


During the second night of overhead artillery, the prisoners heard German

trucks leaving 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 the remaining

Germans. In mid-afternoon, tanks from the Army’s 47th Tank Battalion rolled

into camp.

 

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 he started

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

was wandering.


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 Stalag VII-A.


“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 planes came.”

 

The planes took the men to Rheims, France, where they received much-needed

medical attention. Hoskins weighed 135 pounds, down 55 from his playing

(and flying) weight.


“We were given shots, and they started filling us with food.”


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 interned,

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

remainder could remain behind for likely liberation by the advancing U.S.

troops.


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

reached 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

went back 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,” he wrote.

 

                                                               *   *   *


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 came

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,

the best 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 in action,

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.