By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Thomas Holt started his Army career as a 2nd Lieutenant immediately out of military school. He sailed the Queen Mary with the Iowa National Guard's 34th Division. He trained in northern Ireland about four months before becoming a U.S. Ranger. The duties of the rangers are Special Infantry units to move very quickly.
"We had special duties and sometimes had to go very many miles to accomplish those duties," Holt said. "We became a viable Army unit with the name 1st Ranger Battalion."
They moved to Northern Scotland for more training.
"It was heavy duty. We were going 24 hours a day. Week in and week out. We were hardened individuals. It really got us ready for what were going to do.
For my part, I did the invasion of North Africa. And from there was involved in all of the campaigns leading up to northern Tunesia where I got caught. We went in to free an airfield, a German airfield, to try and take it over. We ran into three German Divisions, Armored Divisions. And that's where I and my men became prisoners of war. A German tank rolled up to me. Gun was right on me. About 50 men in all were taken prisoner," Holt added.
"The Germans hopped out, relieved me of my rifle. And we were then prisoners of war. I was taken as the commander of the unit. My men and I were put on a German plane and flown right over the water to Sicily where we were taken under control by the Italians at that time and immediately taken to a German-Ttalian camp at Naples," Holt said.
They would remain at the Italian camp about 10 months before moving toward the Polish corridor.
"Our daily existence was talking to the new prisoners of war, who came in at all times. We wanted to find out immediately where our lines were. Were we winning? How were doing? So we kept our own maps and used a thread to show the American lines," Holt recalled.
POW units kept together.
"We were all officers. We had lectures, constantly, lectures. Languages, history, all of that sort of business. They also tried to keep up their bodies, walking, exercising, and doing calisthenics. But it was difficult to keep up their strength with little nourishment. I lived on no more than 400 calories a day, if that. I lost 100 pounds," Holt said.
"The Germans did not feed us. Red Cross parcels did not get through. Many times we went on nothing. Our 400 calories sank to zero calories," Holt said.
But the prisoners' dedication to maintaining their bodies and minds would pay off. As they made what would be an arduous escape.
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