Clifford Houben—A Prisoner for 28 Months

Cliff Houben at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, 1941.

I heard earlier this month from Wayne Houben, who had this information to share concerning his father, who was a former POW at Camp 59.

“Clifford Houben was my father. He died in 1971 and was buried at the Glen Haven veteran’s memorial cemetery in Winter Park Florida.

“He wouldn’t talk about the time he was in the war, but he did leave some records. One was a war log that he wrote while in the prison camps. Unfortunately a part of the book was missing, taken by the Germans I assume.

“My dad went from England to Tunisia in North Africa. He was a scout and saw some terrible fighting. In his log he writes about a friend, Ralph Wilson, who was shot and died in my dad’s arms. He wrote several stories in his log, but it’s short on dates and places. Perhaps those were some of the things that were taken out.

“His name is on one of the playing cards. [See post on Luther Shields’ Dual-Purpose Deck of Cards.] Note that he lived in McKean County, Pennsylvania, but enlisted in Olean, New York. He was stationed in Massachusetts and he married my mother there and so listed his address as Lowell, Massachusetts [his address on the card].

“There was one Italian that dad had a picture of—Giuseppe—a man about 20 or 25 and in a uniform. I don’t know what his relationship to my dad was. But, one time he mentioned that the Italians helped him. After he escaped from Camp 59, he was given refuge by some Italians, but later was recaptured by the Germans and sent to Stalag II B in Hammerstein, Germany.

“Stalag II B was as bad they got for the Americans. He was forever afraid of German Shepard dogs. Later my mother told me that he had seen more than one man killed by the guard dogs trying to escape.

“Mother also said that at times they were made to stay in deep holes.

“I understand they were marched in Germany. There are only second-hand, vague stories of this ordeal. I guess many died and some were shot. When the Russians released them they were on their own to find their way back to the American lines.

“Dad made it across Germany traveling with a man named Hugh Dent. In 1964, Hugh made a trip to Orlando to see my dad. When he showed up they hugged each other and wept. He said it was my dad that had kept him alive, finding where the German people stored their winter potatoes and wrapping their feet with papers and what ever they could find.

“After returning to the States, my dad spent time at Lake Placid, New York for recuperation.”