The Stories of the Museum Series

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More than a thousand military men and women and family members have donated thousands of personal items and stories to the museum over the past forty years. The displays span World War I to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and tell the stories of those who fought and died. This series of stories describes a few of these in more detail.

 

    UNTEROFFIZIER EUGENE KLEIN

        by Bill Crocker

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   The Luftwaffe was the aerial-warfare branch of the German Wehrmacht during WWII. It proved instrumental in the German victories across Poland and Western Europe. Eugene Klein was from Brenz an der Brenz,  a very old town halfway between Munich and Stuttgart. His belief in Hitler and the improving economy convinced him to volunteer for the military. He joined the Luftwaffe where he rose to become an Unteroffizier attached to a ground support unit. This was the first level of the noncommissioned officer ranks and was similar to an American sergeant during that period. By this time, he had developed second thoughts about Hitler, but it was too late to back out.   

   Klein was in a truck traveling along a road in Normandy in 1944 when the truck struck a land mine. The explosion knocked him unconscious. When he recovered, he discovered he was an American prisoner of war. Klein was transferred to the US aboard RMS Queen Mary. He continued west by train and was amazed at the good treatment he received as well as the country’s large size and obvious prosperity. 

   He spent two weeks in a camp in Texas where he remembered being fed nothing but sauerkraut “morning, noon, and night.” He wondered if this was a form of punishment or a result of ignorance. He and others finally ended up in rural northern California where they were put to work on farms. Much to his surprise, he was actually paid for his work. He was treated well and in fact an American GI was punished for trying to take his wedding ring. 

   Eugene Klein was repatriated and returned to his hometown to find the German authorities had declared him dead, and his wife had remarried.  He remained in Brenz an der Brenz and opened a painting business. He had hoped to return to the US after the war but never got the opportunity. However, his son, Joe, emigrated in 1983, settled in Linda, California, and opened Carol’s, a restaurant on North Beale Road.

   On a visit a few years later, Eugene and Joe were traveling north through Sheridan on State Route 65 on their way to Linda, when Eugene said he thought he knew the area. Joe asked him how that could be. He responded he was sure this was the area where he had worked on farms when he was a POW. Later, it was confirmed he had been one of the approximately 3,000 German prisoners housed at Camp Beale. 

   When asked about his POW experience, Eugene said he was not bitter. “No, I don’t have any hateful feelings,” he said. “But I wouldn’t have minded staying.”

   Eugene Klein’s framed display may be viewed in glass case marked 17.

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