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Brothers who knew of the hell of war

By Mercedes M. Cardona
Journal staff

[September 18, 1987, Poughkeepsie Journal, Poughkeepsie, New York] 

Richard and Henry Kane wanted to see the world when they joined the Army.

But they spent most of their service time in prisoner of war camps in Italy and Germany.

For almost 2½ years during World War II, the Orange County brothers were held captive in the same prison camps. Today, national POW-MIA Day, they will join others at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Castle Point for ceremonies honoring POWs and those missing in action.

They know first-hand why POWs are recognized. Richard Kane’s feet were frozen while he was a POW. He once was lined up with others and was about to be shot when someone returned a loaf of bread that sparked the guards’ fury.

When they returned home, the brothers felt as if they were beginning new lives. Even hearing children speak English was a wonder.

Before enlisting, the Kanes had grown up on a Hamptonburg apple farm and had never been outside Orange Country.

Within months of joining the Army, they were captured in Tunesia. They were taken prisoner Dec. 23, 1942, in an area of rocky hills called Caserin Pass [Kasserine Pass], near the port of Oran. Richard, then 20, was a radio man; Henry was a 21-year-old foot soldier.

Their captors were front-line troops, so they treated their prisoners well. “They told us, ‘Today you, tomorrow us,’” says Richard Kane, now 65.

After interrogation, the prisoners were sent to a prison camp in Sicily. Later they were moved to camps in Naples and Port St. George on the Adriatic coast.

Italy was the worst,” says Henry Kane, 66. His brother agrees. “Those fascists were really rotten. To them, you were a bug,” he says.

In Port St.George, prisoners broke out and the brothers escaped.

They remained free for six months, walking behind enemy lines to rejoin U.S. troops. They got close enough to hear the front lines, but they didn’t make reach the Allies’ side.

Members of the Italian underground hid them and warned them when the German troops were near. The first Italian phrase they learned was, “Where are the Germans?”

They picked olives and watched sheep for a living while working with the underground.

When they were recaptured, they were sent to a prison camp in Florence. There stormtroopers shot prisoners for any offense and left their bodies where they fell.

As the front lines moved closer, the prisoners were moved to Stalag 2B in Munich, w[h]ere they repaired railroad tracks damaged during air raids.

Every morning at 10, the allies would bomb the tracks. The prisoners would then fix them, only to see them bombed again the next morning.

The prisoners were later moved to a camp near Berlin. The last camp the brothers were moved to was a logging detail near the Russian front.

They could see trains headed for the concentration camps. Often, they would see bodies thrown out and left by the tracks.

On Jan. 2, 1945, the prisoners began a march which would last for the next five months. They were forced to march to the front lines and then back off, sometimes under fire from Allied planes.

They were freed May 2, 1945.

Several prisoners hid in a bomb crater and spelled out “POW” with stones. A passing airplane saw the sign and dipped its wings to acknowledge it.

The next day, they were rescued by an armored division of the U.S. Army. They were 30 miles south of Lubeck, a city northeast of Hamburg.

They came home a month later, but had trouble adjusting. Richard Kane suffered nightmares for months. “I would get up and start running in the middle of the night,” he says. He points to his brother: “You were a nervous wreck.” Henry agrees.

A month after he returned, Richard married his girlfriend, Marie. He was a mason for about six months, then became a clerk and later a manager for A&P supermarkets. He is now retired and lives with his wife in Montgomery.

Three of their four sons went into the Army and two of them served in Vietnam.

Henry, a retired mason, married a year later. He lives in Cornwall with his wife, Gertrude. They have four children; one of his sons served in Vietnam.

“He was scared over there,” he says. “But who’s not scared in a war?” he adds, knowingly.

They disagree strongly over the possibility of prisoners of war still being alive in Southeast Asia.

“That’s just hearsay. I don’t believe it,” says Henry Kane.

“There’s been too many sightings of concentration camps over there,” counters his brother.

Richard Kane doesn’t like to talk about his time as a POW.

“I don’t want to, but he (Henry) makes the appointment and I don’t want to disappoint him,” he says.

This may be his last interview.

“It takes me two, three days to get over it.”

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Photo caption: Henry and Richard Kane today, and (inset) in a wartime photograph with their mother Lydia, who has died.

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