Interview with a WWII P.O.W. Hero–Marion Wicker

April 22, 2010

Marion Wicker was born on June 12, 1920. He was born into a farming family with four sisters and five brothers. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Marion through my grandmother. They worked together in the mill after his military service. Although he now resides Newberry, South Carolina, he was born in the Kinards area, and this is where he was living when World War II broke out in Europe. On October 16, 1941, Uncle Sam sent the 21-year-old young man a very important telegram. He had been drafted. When asked was he scared or worried Mr. Marion calmly replied, “No…I wasn’t worried. Now my mom, she was scared. But me, I was excited. I was 21 and free.” Marion Wicker was going to get paid fifty dollars a month to drive an Army supply truck in North Africa. However he would soon be in for much more excitement than he bargained for.

“Once the war started getting so big over in Europe…we all knew it would only be a matter of time before the U.S. got involved.” After Marion Wicker was drafted on October 16, he was sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia. This is where he was training, when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred. Mr. Marion recalled, “We knew then that it was certain; we were going to war.” In January they set out for England and by March they were performing training maneuvers at night in Ireland. Finally Marion Wicker and the 168th infantry got to their combat destination–Algeria, North Africa. Things were going smoothly. Mr. Marion was performing his assigned duties–hauling guns, ammunition, food, etc. But, as the Army pressed to the north-east, into Tunsia, trouble began to creep dangerously close, and no one expected what would come next.

The date was February 3, 1943. Mr. Marion had no trouble recalling this date. “The Germans charged us and completely surrounded us” said Mr. Marion. “Were there any attempts to fight them at that point?” I asked. “No!” he exclaimed, “They had us surrounded. Everyone dropped their guns and surrendered.” Marion Wicker, along with the rest of his group, were now American prisoners-of-war. The men were immediately flown to a makeshift P.O.W. camp in Italy, where they spent their time in a cold tent.

Soon after, they were sent to Munich, Germany and it was here that Mr. Marion saw a taste of the Nazi SS troops and their cruelty. “They were never really mean to us…” stated Mr. Marion, “but those young SS troops, they had a cockiness about them.” It was in Munich where he saw victims of the Holocaust…”We saw this group of soldiers leading a string of Jews. They weren’t anything but skin and bones…it wasn’t a lie…it was real! I saw that.” Can you imagine? Being there and seeing first hand…the victims of Hitler’s burning hatred. “For the most part, we were treated pretty fair. There was one instance,” remembered Mr. Marion, “during an air raid, the building we were in caught on fire and we were forced into one of the buildings that wasn’t burning. They were kind of forceful then, but for the most part…they weren’t too rough.” I asked Mr. Marion if he was ever scared or did he feel the need to pray “You know…I can’t say that I prayed [although his mother was praying] and I really wasn’t scared. We were all pretty down on that plane ride to Italy but no…I wasn’t scared. I didn’t have sense enough to be scared!” He said with a laugh.

After a short time in Munich, Marion Wicker was split up from his original group, including his first cousin, and sent with seventeen other American P.O.W.’s, to work at a fenced-in farm in Poland. Here they were forced to do slave labor while guarded by old World War I veterans. “We survived. It was my kind of work. I was raised on a farm. We didn’t have tons of food but I tell you what…we never ate less than the guards. They were good to us…I guess they had seen all this before in World War I. The prisoners-of-war were allowed mail and small packages from home. For the first time since his capture, Mr. Marion was able to correspond with his family. “I never smoked until my sister started sending me cigarette pack from home” he said with a laugh. “She sent them, so I figured I should smoke them.” At least now Mr. Marion could keep some contact with his family, and hear news on his brother, who had been stationed in the Pacific.

Life was not unbearable in the camp and on Sundays, the prisoners would enjoy their only day off with games of pinochle. “Did you ever try to escape?” I asked. “No…I never did. There were a couple of guys who went over the fence…we never heard anything out of them. Most of us were content to wait it out. We knew they were coming for us.” “So you never lost hope?” I questioned. “No sir. No. I never lost hope;” he replied affirmatively, “I always knew our boys were coming for us.”

Help would eventually come. Through mail, and the sightings of Allied bombers, both the prisoners and the guards knew it was only a matter of time before the war would be over. The seventeen prisoners-of-war had grown as close as brothers and they would often tease the German guards by pointing to the sky and saying, “Plane Americano!!” Finally the blessed day came. Although he cannot completely remember what events actually transpired, Mr. Marion does know that during one April day in 1945, the gates opened and the prisoners, accompanied by the guards, just walked out. “Where were you going?” I asked puzzled. “I don’t know;” he said with a chuckle, “we didn’t know…I guess we were going to find the Allies and the guards felt like going with us.” After a month of cold nights spent in abandoned barns or under open skies, and long days of aimless walking, Mr. Marion and his American and German companions eventually found themselves in Lamar France and FINALLY in British hands! “What did we do?!?”, exclaimed Mr. Marion, “we got pretty drunk and had a good old time!” The German guards, now veterans of two world wars, were apparently content to throw their guns down and issue their own surrender. It had been two long years, and a long walk from Poland, but Marion Wicker was finally going home.

Mr. Marion then had to go through some different tests and he was finally sent to a fort in Florida where he said they “de-liced you.” After that he had to hitch-hike from Florida back up to his little community of Kinards, South Carolina. “I remember walking back into the yard and hearing my sister cry out, ‘I believe that’s Mac!’ They called me Mac.” Apparently they “had a ball” that evening and they were so excited that the poor mule had to spend the rest of the day in the field. Unfortunately for the mule, Mr. Marion’s father left the beast standing right there and ran in when he heard his son was home. Can you blame him? It was June of 1945. It had been nearly four years since Marion Wicker had left to serve his country, but he was now home.

My favorite quote from Mr. Marion was when he said, “German people aren’t all bad…they just had a young leader who got them fired up. They were good soldiers doing their job.” Although he never heard what happened to the old German guards, and he eventually fell out of contact with his fellow P.O.W.’s, the experiences Mr. Marion endured will be with him forever. He went on to marry a wonderful wife and have a healthy family with kids and grandkids and great-grand kids; and if you saw the funny, humble, easy-going. Marion working in his garden, you probably would never know what a hero he really is. Why is he a hero? He did not single-handedly capture a German patrol, nor did he charge blindly into a bunker on a beach. He was really never even physically wounded. But Marion Wicker did something many of us will never do. He gave away four years of his life to the protection of the country we freely call home. He served for his country and for his family and that to me, is heroic. Mr. Marion, if you are reading this now, I thank YOU, and all veterans, who fought to keep this land a free nation under God. You are true Heroes.

-Jesse Tarver

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One Response to “Interview with a WWII P.O.W. Hero–Marion Wicker”

  1. Kerri Says:

    Hi,
    Marion Wicker is my grandfather. This is an absolute wonderful interview and I’m so glad to have found it. I am wondering if you recorded this interview by any chance? If so, I would love to have a copy of it. Please let me know if there is a way to contact you.
    Thanks!
    Kerri


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