90-year-old Punta Gorda man looks back on time as a WWII P.O.W.

Published: January 27, 2015 6:01 PM EST
Updated: January 27, 2015 6:26 PM EST

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.- Cliff Birdsall was drafted for WWII in 1943 at the young age of 19.

“I wanted to go. I think everyone at my age wanted to go. There was no question,” said Birdsall.

He had no idea that about a year and a half later, he would be taken as a prisoner after Hitler’s surprise attack in an effort to split the Allied armies– better known as the Battle of the Bulge.

“We were loaded in to the 40 by 8 boxcars… It was very difficult,” said Birdsall.

There wasn’t room for everyone to sit down so half stood while half sit– switching off every once in a while. A few days later while still cramped in that locked boxcar without any food or the ability to see outside, the British began bombing the railroad yards, not knowing that Birdsall and 59 other American soldiers were scared to death below.

“God protected me,” said Birdsall as he stifled back tears.

The men were taken to a P.O.W. camp. Some time later, a smaller group, including Birdsall, were taken to a brick factory in Germany where they worked still with nearly empty bellies.

“There was a loaf of bread shared by eight of us and that was it,” said Birdsall.

One day they heard American B-17 bombers flying overhead.

“We started singing. We felt so good cause we saw so many planes going over and no opposition and that’s when the guards weren’t happy and they shot at our feet,” said Birdsall.

As he wiped his tears, he quickly moved on to tells us that they were never abused nor did they ever try to escape.

Near the end of the war, Birdsall says the guards didn’t knowwhat to do with the prisoners anymore but not wanting to surrender, the guards began marching them through Germany for about a month. On April 25th, 1945 they came across five American soldiers who were able to liberate them the next day.

Birdsall knows these dates and places even so many years later because he had an address book with him–one of the only things that was taken from him as a prisoner.