Ray Kestner—Still Behind Enemy Lines


Raymond Kestner with family

The letters in this post, saved by Ray Kestner’s sister, are posted here courtesy of Ray’s granddaughter Jessica Kestner McMahon.

In one of his letters, Marshall Wells makes reference to Ray’s wounded arm. Ray had been shot in the left arm before capture and was treated by the Italians.

The sensitive correspondence between strangers in this post calls to my mind the sharing of news concerning Albert Rosenblum’s capture described in “Kind Strangers—Relays from Radio Rome” and the news of Willman King recorded in “Heard over Shortwave.”

For more on Ray Kestner, see “Local News Articles—Raymond Kestner” and “Ray Kestner—Letters and Postcards.



[Written on United States Army Air Forces stationery]

January 27, 1944

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kestner,

If this address reaches you please write to me as I may be able to tell you something about your son Raymond.

I was with him in the P.O.W. camp in Italy. I traveled with him for ten days after our release. We got out of the camp the nite of Sept. 14th and Ray and I parted the 24th. He and another lad from Illinois were together and I traveled with another chap from Texas.

I got back to Allied troops in November and now I’m here in the States.

Raymond was in fine health when we parted and I don’t think you need to worry about his welfare now. The Italian farmers were very nice to us. Plenty of food & everything.

Raymond didn’t like to walk and his idea was to wait for the Allies.

If you receive this letter I do wish you’d write as Raymond & I were very good friends.

I’m sure he is fine and will be back before too long.

Marshall C. Wells



Note that Mrs. G. E. Lowry’s letter is simply addressed to: “Next of Kin, of, Kestner/Prisoner of War in Italy” in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.

Okawville, Ill. [Illinois] Jan-30-44

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kestner,

I am Mrs. G. E. Lowry of Okawville, Ill., and I have a won Warren Lowry who has been a prisoner of war in Italy since December, 1942. At the time of the Italian surrender, Sept.-43, he was at Camp 59, M.P. 3300. Naturally we have been very anxious as to his whereabouts since that time.

Late in December I received a letter from Marshall C. Wells, who was a member of the same crew of a group carrier transport as our son. He was taken prisoner at the same time as our son and they have been together in a military hospital and prisoner camps in Italy.

He told us in this letter that he arrived home about a week before Christmas. He said that he (Wells), our son Warren and two other prisoners traveled together for the first ten days after they got out of the prison camp. Then they divided in their opinion as to the best way to reach the Allied lines. Wells and one lad started walking south and after walking about 130 miles reached the Allied lines and reached home late in Dec. Our son and the other young fellow decided to remain where they were. They were being cared for by three friendly Italian farmer families; plenty, and more than they needed to eat and also shelter.

I answered his letter, asking him among other things the name of the young fellow who remained with our son. I rec’d a letter yesterday saying that his name is Kestner from Sleepy Eye, Minn. [Minnesota] and that I might write to you if I cared to do so.

While what I have told you is not much, I am passing it on to you, hoping that it may help to relieve your anxiety as it has done for us.

The address of Wells is Lt. Marshall C. Wells AAF [Army Air Forces] Redistribution Station No. 3, Santa Monica Calif. [California] His Home address is Dodson, Mont. [Montana] I have had several letters from his mother and I feel that the information from him is authentic If you wish to inquire about your son you could write to him.

I hope I have made no mistake in writing to you. I appreciate so much hearing any little thing about our son.

Most Sincerely,
Mrs. G. E. Lowry
Okawville, Ill.



Squadron S
Santa Monica, Calif.
February 9, 1944

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kestner,

Arrived at this station yesterday and your letter was waiting for me.

I’m awfully glad that you received word about Ray as he was my best friend in camp. I wasn’t at all sure of your address but evidently it was O.K.

I left Ray about 60 miles north of where the Allies are now. He was well & happy, doing nothing but sleeping and eating.

As for his wounded arm, it is as good as ever. It never did bother him a great deal.

He was with another fellow from Ill., neither one were over energetic and were living the life of Riley. They were being fed by three different Italian families, all the macaroni they could consume. Also plenty of wine.

I don’t think you need worry about him he’ll be there when the Allies reach that point. In the meantime you can rest assured that he is enjoying his freedom.

I will close for now. if I hear any more of Ray I’ll write you immediately.

Marshall C. Wells


July 7, 1943 [The year is incorrect—the letter’s envelope is postmarked July 8, 1944.]
Okawville, Ill.

Dear Mrs. Kestner,

I arrived home today and after seeing how much my mother has worried I write news of Raymond. I last saw Raymond on last May 11th. We had been caught together on the previous day by German troops. The truck in which we were being transported to a camp in Italy was “strafed” by four British planes. Ray escaped the German hands at that time and if you have not heard from him by now you should soon. I did not escape until several days later. As the area in which we were staying is now in Allied hands I think that Ray should be on way home now. At least I hope so. Tell Ray to write me soon as possible.

W. C. Lowry
Okawville, Ill.


A page from Raymond’s Roman Catholic “Christmas book,” as Jessica Kestner McMahon refers to it—since it contains both Christmas carols as well as calendar pages.

On this page Raymond recorded key dates concerning his capture, interment, and escape:

Captured Dec. 6, 1942 around Tunis
Jan. 31 plaster [cast] removed [from left arm]
Dec. 10 arrived in Naples Di Caserta hospital
Febr 6 – Camp 66 (Capura) 1943
March 1 – Camp 59 (SERVIGLIANO) 1943
Sept. 14 – released from Camp 59 behind Jerry lines
Oct 24. Attempted boat scheme.
May 10 recaptured by Jerry 1944
May 12 escaped when planes strafed truck
June 21. allied troops arrived (Sarnano)

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