Frederick Elliott Ehmann, 99, former POW, author

Frederick Elliott Ehmann in 1945, back home after being shot down over Italy in 1943.
Frederick Elliott Ehmann in 1945, back home after being shot down over Italy in 1943.
Posted: August 12, 2013

Frederick Elliott Ehmann, 99, a World War II veteran and former prisoner of war, died Sunday, Aug. 4, at his home in Pine Run Health Center in Doylestown.

A longtime resident of Doylestown, Mr. Ehmann worked as director of brewing at C. Schmidt & Sons Brewing Co. in Philadelphia. He was also a pilot, musician, and scout leader.

His wartime experiences, though, were a highlight of his life. In his 90s, he learned to use a computer and wrote of being an Army gunner in a B-24 bomber shot down over northern Italy on Dec. 28, 1943.

The plane was on a mission to bomb oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania, when it was hit. Remaining behind in the crippled aircraft to rescue a fellow gunner, he was burned before bailing out and parachuting into a canal.

"Don't shoot. I am an American," he told the elderly man on the ground who held a gun to his head, he wrote in the memoir.

Turned over to the Germans, he was sent to Stalag 17B in Krems, Austria, where he and 4,500 other prisoners struggled to survive the subzero cold and thin rations of rutabaga soup and bread.

"There was no brutality. If anyone tells you something other than that, they're a liar. There was a shortage of food. We would be fed once a day. Sometimes it would be a lousy soup," he told an interviewer in 2010.

The men's quarters were abandoned World War I buildings, unheated except for two potbellied stoves that were stoked with boards stripped from the latrine building. Despite the conditions, morale remained high, he wrote.

The prisoners never had a two-way radio or a working tunnel system, as depicted in Hogan's Heroes. But they did build a crystal radio for listening to the BBC. The radio antenna was hidden in the prisoners' clothesline, the other pieces throughout the barracks.

The POWs stayed busy planning and carrying out exploits to upset their captors.

Once, the prisoners were given a giant sausage. It looked good from a distance, but was full of maggots. The prisoners named it Adolf, dressed it in a uniform, and laid it out on a board. Then they marched it around camp and gave it a decent burial in the latrine.

The prank brought armed guards on the run. One who spoke English wanted to know what the men were doing. After he was told, he smiled and said, "You all are crazy," Mr. Ehmann wrote.

On April 15, 1945, after 15 months, a German captain gave an order to evacuate the next day.

"We were told that the Russians had captured Vienna, which was only 35 kilometers away, and that they would be taking the camp in less than two days," he wrote.

After nine days of forced march, the POWs arrived at their new camp in a forest at the fork of the Inn and Salzach Rivers.

On the other side of the water was Germany.

"On the morning of our fifth day, I was sitting by the edge of the road when a military jeep came by with four American officers and a machine gun. Several of us stood up and shouted that we were Americans.

"The officers stopped and said, 'What the hell are you guys doing here?' They said they would be back within 24 hours with help. They left us, and we all had a feeling I will never be able to describe."

The next day, American soldiers arrived with trucks. Within an hour, they had subdued the German guards. "We were finally able to say we were free," Mr. Ehmann wrote.

Mr. Ehmann's captivity officially ended May 2, 1945. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars.

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Ehmann grew up in Logan. He attended trade school before working with the Army Corps of Engineers constructing the coastal watch towers in Lewes, Del.

After his military service, Mr. Ehmann returned home and married Kathryn A. Hipp, a girl from his neighborhood in Logan. They were married 64 years.

They worked together in State College, Pa., managing the restaurant at the Autoport Motel, he in the kitchen, and she waiting tables.

When their first child was born, they returned to Philadelphia.

Mr. Ehmann decided to follow several generations of the Hipp family into the brewing business.

After graduating from Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, he spent his entire career with Schmidt's. He retired in 1979.

In 1957, the family moved to Doylestown Township, where he became active in the Doylestown Country Club. He also managed Doylestown Borough's parking lots.

In retirement, he enjoyed golf, fishing, and playing the piano. He and his wife enjoyed trips to Naples, Fla.; Ocracoke, N.C.; and the Jersey Shore. She died in August 2010.

Surviving are sons William E. and Frederick H.; a daughter, Evelyn Pantuso; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Plans for a memorial service are pending.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or bcook@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|