Edwin Rogers—A Soldier Returns

Edwin Rogers, as a staff sergeant on his return from overseas

I heard recently from Rita Chaney, who lives here in the U.S. in the state of Kentucky.

Rita wrote, “My uncle was a prisoner in CC 59 in Italy. His name was Edwin P. Rogers from Kentucky. His name is on the Dual Deck of Playing Cards.” See “Dual Purpose Deck of Cards.”

Ed Roger’s POW card, kept by the Italian government during the time he was a prisoner in Italy, is on the U.S. National Archives website.

That card indicates Ed was interned in P.G. 98 on Sicily (transferred to that camp from Tunisia on December 26, 1942) and in P.G. 59 (transferred from Camp 98 on July 23, 1943).

Although the date Ed was captured isn’t clear on the card—it’s either December 20 or 22, 1942—it seems likely he was captured at the first battle of Longstop Hill.

On the National Archives site, an additional POW record for Ed confirms the last camp where he was held was P.G. 59. Many escaped POWs were recaptured and sent to Germany. However, Ed seems to have successfully evaded recapture.

“Ed was born in Estill County, Kentucky,” Rita told me, “in a little community called Mountain Springs. At the time it was a thriving community off the beaten path.

“He didn’t have a middle name, and when he told the army personnel that were signing him in, they didn’t like the idea that he didn’t have a middle name. So they said, ‘Phillip’—from here on out you will be Edwin Phillip Rogers.

“Ed’s family did not know that he had been captured. For a long time there was no communication from him, so they thought he was dead. 

“When he got out of the service, he married and started a family. They lived in Newport, Kentucky. He made frequent trips back to Estill County, where most of his people lived.

“Ed did not talk a lot about his capture or his experience in the military. Well, not until he got a few drinks down, and then he would say a few things.

“He would come to my house, and he and my dad would sit at the kitchen table having drinks and smoking cigarettes. I was young, so I didn’t realize the importance of taking in any information I could of his experiences.

“I remember Ed saying that when he was first captured the men were thrown down into a big hole in the ground. He said they got very little to eat. They ate bugs, worms, anything they could find crawling on the ground. He said one man hung himself with his belt and the body remained in with them.

“Others starved to death. He said the captors would come by ever so often and dump food in on them, but it was more like slop. He said it was just like slopping a bunch of hogs. 

“He said a ‘foreign’ woman would come by ever so often and sneak food to them. I remember him saying she brought frozen pinto beans and they were so happy to get them.

“He was helped by an Italian family when he escaped.

“Ed’s wife’s name was Wilma and she has passed. They had three children—Yvonne Rogers Cahill, Wayne Rogers, and Pamela Hellard.

“My dad was his favorite nephew. He visited us when he came from Campbell County to Estill County to visit my grandfather, which was his brother Harry. 

“Mom always cooked his favorite meal. He loved soup beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread. Ed loved to partake of the spirits whenever he visited. His brother Harry didn’t drink but my dad drank plenty and always had something to drink, or if not he certainly knew where to get it fast. Therefore, he and my dad were pretty close. They’d sit at the table in our kitchen and talk and laugh into the night.

“Ed had the prettiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He was always happy and chuckling as I remember. He loved all us kids, all five of us. His daughter Pamela was just a couple years older than me and so I got all her hand-me-downs when she outgrew them. Oh, how I loved to see them coming—I’d run as fast as I could as soon as they pulled up into the driveway to see what all they brought for me! Sometimes Pamela brought me toys she outgrew or no longer wanted.

“That’s about all I know about my uncle. He was a great man.”

Rita put in me in touch with Ed’s eldest daughter, Yvonne, and his son Wayne. I called both of them last week.

“My dad never talked about his experience, and my mom knew very little,” Yvonne told me.

“Mom always said the war affected him. I loved my dad, he loved us, he provided for us, but you couldn’t get close to him.

“It seems to me mom said at first they treated him good, but when the men tried to escape and they got them back again—that’s when they didn’t provide anything for them.

“My mom and dad didn’t know each other before he went overseas.

“My dad worked at the Newport Steel Company—that’s when everything was booming when he got out of the war. He and his brothers came to work at the steel plant.

“Dad grew up in the hills of Kentucky—Cobb Hill, Kentucky—Mountain Springs.”

“I was born in ’46 and my brother was born in ’48.

“Those men could still go on and function, but they weren’t like they were before—and they’d have nightmares.”

Wayne said, “I don’t know very much, but I do know when he came back he was a completely different man than when he left. He didn’t have shell shock, but he was nervous as heck. He didn’t drink but on Saturdays, but then he’d get a little tipsy with the neighbors under the tree in front of the house.

“I’ll tell you one thing—we never had a problem with him drinking. That was the only time I’d seen that guy happy. We all loved dad and everything—and mom didn’t care. If he got a little tipsy that was fine. He’d just come into the house and sleep it off.

“He grew up in the mountains where they drank moonshine. He knew a guy who would make it—he made two barrels. He didn’t sell it. He just made it for himself. But if he knew you, he’d sell it to you at cost.

“This one Italian lady—I don’t have a name, address, or anything—she took care of dad, several of them, and hid them out from the Germans. She and my dad corresponded for a long time, but eventually that stopped. I remember mom saying for years he wrote to her. I don’t have any of the letters. Dad never did save anything that way.

“The way dad talked, the guards were just kind of normal guys who weren’t too crazy about having to look over the prisoners. They were like us—common people.

“Dad told me he was standing next to a guard once and a German plane flew over. The pilot kind of tipped his wings, and the guard said, ‘I guess he’s never run into a P-51 yet!’

“I imagine to a certain extent they had to treat them bad. I think they were trying to be humane, but in war it’s hard to be humane.

“Dad was close-mouthed about the war. It really bothered him until the day he died.

“He wasn’t a very happy man when he came back. Everybody in the family said he’d changed. My older cousins said that dad used to sing, and he wrote some songs and he played the guitar. He never did that after he came back. At least I never heard it.

“He didn’t like to be around a lot of people. He usually just stayed home.”

It was not unusual for former POWs to avoid talking about their wartime experiences. For more on this, read “To Talk or Not To Talk.”

Ed and his wife Wilma. The couple met and married after Ed’s return from captivity.

Garnie Rogers, Ed Rogers, and Junior Rogers. “Garnie and Junior were Ed’s brother’s sons. Junior is my father.” Rita explained, “They were best of buds.”

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