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Tale of a B-17 POW



My great uncle's name is William Roland Harkness. My father said that he went by the name Roland. I am trying to get more information but have very little to go with as it all of his paperwork from that time period was destroyed in a house fire during the late 1980's. If anyone knows where I might get more information on my great uncle please send them my way. I can be reached at this E-Mail address.

This article was from the Shreveport Times Wed Oct 11, 1944. Title: Bulgaria Prison was a rat hole. Athens La. flier tells of six months of "simulated hell". With the 15th AAF in Italy on a mission over Sofia Bulgaria on Jan 24 1944, Sgt William R. Harkness's Flying Fortress was hit, because of extremely bad weather and zero visibility, by bombs from the plane above them. Sgt Harkness of Athens and five other members of the crew were able to bail out of the disabled ship. Once on the ground, the men assembled to plan their return to their own lines. Because of the bad weather conditions their exact Whereabouts was unknown to themselves. They thought they were in Yugoslavia, and with that in mind started heading west in hopes of reaching the coast and partisan aid. Shortly after they started walking they met civilians who seemed friendly. The civilians told the men that they were still in Bulgaria and after some talk agreed to shelter them for the night and start them on their way to safety the next day. "After spending the night in the Bulgarian Village" said Sergeant Harkness, "We Started out led by the civilians. Unfortunately we were intercepted by Bulgarian Soldiers who took us prisoners and marched twelve miles to their Headquarters. One of our party had a broken ankle and another a badly wrenched knee. All of us were pretty well bruised up so we had to help each other along the road and use sticks to support ourselves. "Once at Bulgaria Headquarters we were questioned incessantly for six days. We were threatened shouted at and generally maligned while facing the interrogation officer. When we weren't being questioned, we were held in a cellar with nothing but boards to sleep on. There was water on the floor and we had no blankets or other protection against the biting cold. Our injuries received no medical attention despite our treatment and demands according to the Geneva Convention. As for food we got practically nothing. " We were then after six days taken to Sofia, where we were again questioned and threatened for five more days. Here again we received no medical attention whatsoever. We were held in a dark and cold dungeon and had no protection against the freezing weather. Food amounted to a piece of bread and some soup now and then. " We were moved to a prison camp where the conditions were almost animal like fifty men slept in an ill ventilated and filthy barracks. We were made to sleep on the floor. With but one lice and vermin infected blanket as protection against the cold. Food here was limited to a very thin broth twice a day accompanied one slice of old bread. After six months of this simulated hell we were moved to another prison camp. " At the second prison camp the conditions were a little better. The Bulgarians could see their ultimate defeat coming. After a month we were released and brought back to Italy when Bulgaria Capitulated. Sergeant Harkness whose wife Mrs. Ophelia Harkness lives at Athens, Louisiana had 14 missions to his credit when he went down.




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