The ten men on this page are the first P.G. 59 ex-POWs I was aware of when I began this site in 2008. I had the pleasure of knowing three of them personally—Ralph Hoag, Roland Rakow, and Neil Torssell—through email, letter, or phone.
To find individual posts about these men, look for their names under “Categories” on the home page.
These men are only a sample of the thousands of men who passed through P.G. 59 during the Second World War. Check the “Prisoner List” page for a more comprehensive list.
Raymond E. Cox
Raymond Cox served in Company E, 47th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. He took part Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North African. He was captured in March 1943, in Tunisia, at the Battle of El Guettar.
Raymond was flown to Sicily and held in POW Camp 98 for 33 days. He was then transferred to Camp 59. He escaped from the camp in September 1943. With help from the Italians, he eluded recapture until, in June 1944, he reached the lines of Polish forces.
This portrait of Robert Dickinson was drawn in Camp 59 by Sergeant Bist on May 13, 1942.
Robert Dickinson of Lincoln, United Kingdom, joined Lincoln Territorial Battery 237, Royal Artillery, as a gunner in 1938. When World War II broke out he served in France. In 1940, he was involved in the evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk. His battery also saw service in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Libya, where he was taken prisoner in November 1941.
Robert was imprisoned at Camp 59 in Servigliano between January 8, 1942 and January 24, 1943. Next he was imprisoned in Camp 53 Sforzacosta until his escape in September 1943 following the Italian Armistice.
After escaping, Robert found shelter with a family in Gassino in northern Italy. In October 1944, he joined the Partisan fight against the German forces.
Robert was killed in action while fighting with the Partisans on March 3, 1945. He was given an honourable burial and laid to rest in Viali Cemetery in the town of Asti in northern Italy. Following the war his body was transferred to Milan War Cemetery. His headstone bears the following inscription:
“Just one of thousands
Yes we know
But he was ours
And we loved him so”
Armie Sulo Hill
Armie Hill, Staff Sergeant, served in the Army Corps of Engineers (Company D, 19th Engineers) during World War II. He landed in Tunesia during the invasion of North Africa, was captured at the Battle of Kasserine Pass, and was held in POW Camp 98 on Sicily and POW Camp 59 in Servigliano, Italy.
Armie escaped from Camp 59 and traveled cross country, with fellow prisoner Benjamin Farley, to where Allied forces had landed in southern Italy. Following his return to the States he was reassigned to Company A, 325th Engineer Battalion, 100th Infantry Division. He worked in guard detachment 5Dy7 on Pier 90 at the Port of Embarkation in New York City until the end of the war.
Ralph Hoag enlisted in the United States Army in December 1940. He was assigned to A Company, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division (“the Big Red One”) at Fort Hamilton, New York.
On August 2, 1942, he left the U.S. aboard H.M.S. Queen Mary, bound for Scotland. Ralph trained in southern England, returned to Scotland, and embarked on a 22-day voyage. He was then sent on the invasion of North Africa. His force was among the first to land on the shore at Arzew, at around one o’clock a.m. on November 8, 1942.
For three days Ralph’s unit fought the Vichy French forces at Saint Cloud, Algeria.
After motor patrols and a journey across Algeria and into Tunisia, Ralph’s battalion encountered German Panzer forces at Long Stop Hill, near Medjez el Bab, Tunisia. The Americans attacked at night and took the hill, but at dawn they found they were isolated. After several hours of rifle and grenade fire, the battalion was low on ammunition and had suffered heavy casualties. They surrendered to the Germans on December 23, 1942.
On Christmas Day, Ralph was put aboard a destroyer and sent to Palermo, Sicily. He spent a month at Camp 98, where conditions were severe, before being transferred to Camp 59 in Servigliano. Italy fell nine months later, on September 10, 1943, and Ralph escaped from the camp on September 14. Nine days later German paratroopers recaptured him.
Ralph was sent by rail to Muhlberg, Stalag IV-B. His head was shaved and he was bathed, deloused, and dog-tagged. Then he was moved by passenger train, through Berlin, to Stalag II-B at Hammerstein. From there he was transferred by rail to Stalag III-B Furstenberg on Oder, where he was interned for 14 months.
In January 1945, to keep the prisoners out of the hands of the attacking Russians, the Germans marched them through grueling winter conditions to Stalag III-A at Luckenwalde.
Russian tanks liberated the camp on April 22, 1945. The POWS walked for three days to the Elbe River, were rowed across, and on the shore were met by GI trucks. Ralph was finally free after 28 months—or a total of 851 days—as a prisoner.
Roland V. Rakow
Pictured here (left to right) are Charles Volrath, Roland Rakow, Karl Nelson, and a Zulu chief. Durban, South Africa. August 1942.
Roland Rakow, staff sergeant, served as a crew member of the 83rd Squadron, 12th Bomb Group, U.S. Army Air Force. He enlisted in June 1941; in July 1942 he was sent to eastern Egypt.
On September 1, 1942, while on a mission over the front line at El Alamein, Roland’s B-25 bomber was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Three of the six crew members were killed in the crash. Roland parachuted, but was captured by the Germans soon after landing.
He was incarcerated in several POW facilities in North Africa, then transported to a POW hospital in Caserta, Italy. He was later imprisoned at Italian POW camps 53 and 59. Roland escaped from Camp 59 on September 14, 1943 and traveled south on foot through Italy. He reached the British Eighth Army on October 25.
On his return to the States, Roland was treated for multiple injuries and was awarded the Purple Heart for having suffered wounds in battle. He was discharged from military service in November 1945.
Luther C. Shields
Luther Shields was born in Gentry, Arkansas on October 12, 1919 to Elmer and Laura Shields. He is the oldest son, with two brothers (Bob and Bryce) and a younger sister (Lova Mae). When Luther was five, his family and several other relatives moved to Colorado. Women and children boarded the train, and the men drove to their new homestead in the Cortez area. There Luther attended school until his junior year. Then, as his parents could not afford tuition, he went to live with his grandparents in Kuna, Idaho and there finished high school.
Luther was drafted into the U.S. Army on October 20, 1941. He underwent training and in May 1942, his division—the 16th Engineers—was deployed to Northern Ireland. The 16th Engineer Battalion was attached to the 1st Armored Division of the U.S. Army 2nd Corps. On November 8, 1942, Luther took part in the Allied invasion of northwest Africa.
On December 10, 1942, Luther and seven other engineers were laying mines and constructing a road block west of Tunis when they were captured by a German Panzer division. The men were flown to Sicily. Luther was interrogated and imprisoned in Camp 98, where conditions were extremely harsh. From Sicily, he was transferred to Camp 59.
After escaping from the camp in September 1943, Luther was befriended by an Italian family. Through the coming winter, the Palmoni family provided food and shelter for Luther and other escapees. In spring, Granddad Palmoni helped to devise an escape plan. Luther and fellow escapee Louis VanSlooten reached safety on June 14, 1944.
Luther arrived in the U.S. on August 2, 1944. Following a furlough and a stay in a rest camp, he was assigned to guard German prisoners in Idaho. He was discharged from the service in 1945.
After returning home, Luther met Jimmie Robinson, whom he married on November 2, 1945. Luther and Jimmie made their home in Dolores, Colorado. They later homesteaded several acres, raising pinto beans. Their first child, Gary, was born May 6, 1947. Luther continued to farm and haul coal from a nearby coal mine. Then, on October 2, 1950, Cindy was born prematurely, weighing 2 pounds and 8 ounces. After three months in an incubator, she did well.
In the 1960’s, Luther bought a loader and dump truck, purchased land with a gravel pit, and went to work selling gravel, sand, and fill dirt. In the 60’s, Luther became much involved in God’s work. He preached for many years as a Baptist minister, holding services three times a week, and he became an ordained minister in 1983. A war buddy, Roy Hatfield, performed the ordination service. Luther pastored for about 25 years.
In 1988, Luther and Jimmie were saddened with the loss of their first born, Gary, who died of injuries related to a helicopter crash. They were blessed, however, with Gary’s wife Linda and 20-month-old granddaughter Kenlynn.
Jimmie became ill around 2000. Due to her poor health, Luther reduced his work to part-time. He also retired as a pastor. Jimmie passed away in June 2002.
In March 2008, Luther moved to a skilled nursing facility. Luther’s daughter Cindy and her husband Jerry live nearby. Cindy and Jerry have two grown children, Julie and Brett. In all, Luther has three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Francis Anthony Thomas
Private First Class Francis A. (Frank or Francesco) Thomas, of Muskegon, Michigan enlisted in the army in 1942, was quickly trained for combat, and became part of Operation TORCH, the first American military involvement in the European conflict of WWII.
Frank was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division—the Big Red One—and served in the 18th Regiment, 4th Platoon, 1st Battalion, C Company. He was captured in Tunisia at the battle for Long Stop Hill on Christmas Eve 1942. He was shipped with the other captives to Campo 98 in Palermo, Sicily, where he was held for 10 days and fed only twice. He was then transferred to Campo 59 near Servigliano, Italy.
Frank was a POW there until the Italian Armistice allowed a general escape on September 14, 1943. He was then aided by the Italian people in the area and settled in the area of Comunanza (20 km SW) where a family kept him and his comrade, Guss Teel from New Mexico and an Englishman safe from the Germans who were constantly looking for the escapees (usually successfully). His “home” was a hunting shed for the next nine months, until the American forces coming north repatriated him in June 1944.
Neil E. Torssell
Neil Torssell, sergeant, enlisted in the Army on October 1, 1940. He began his service with the 322nd Signal Aviation Company, but soon transferred to the 3rd Air Base Group. He flew in submarine control missions on the East Coast.
Neil participated in the invasion of North Africa. In Algeria he joined the 99th Bomb Group. As a photographer and gunner he flew bombing missions to targets in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy. On July 5, 1943, on his 17th mission, his B-17 was shot down over Sicily. He parachuted and was captured by the Italian forces after landing.
He was held in various prison facilities, the last of which was Camp 59. He escaped the camp in September 1943 and in the months following was sheltered and assisted by the Italians. In time he made his way south and arrived in Allied territory on June 29, 1944.
Neil returned to the States, where he served for the remainder of the war.
Louis VanSlooten was captured in North Africa on December 10, 1942. He spent a month in a temporary camp on Sicily and was transferred to Camp 59. He escaped during the breakout on September 14, 1943. He and fellow prisoner Luther Shields traveled though the mountains, assisted by Italians along the way, and reached the Allied lines on June 14, 1944.
Luther C. Vaughn
Luther Vaugh, staff sergeant, served in the 1st Armored Division, 27th Field Artillery, of the United States Army. He enlisted at Fort Knox, Kentucky in October 1940. When the U.S. went to war, Luther was deployed from Fort Dix, New Jersey and sailed on the Queen Mary to Northern Ireland, where he trained. His unit was among the first to land in North Africa during Operation Torch. He was captured in Tebourba, Tunisia on December 6, 1942. Luther’s division was holding the line so other units could move out when they were surrounded by the German forces and he was captured.
Luther was imprisoned at Camp 59. At the time of the September 1943 escape, he was very ill. The Cesari family found him and provided him with shelter and protection for six months. He was recaptured by the Nazis and spent the rest of the war in various German Stalags; he was finally liberated from Stalag 3B Furstenberg Brandenburg, Prussia 52-14 in 1945.