BURDETTE "SHORTY" PARROTT
BRANCH OF SERVICE:
Army National Guard
1941 - 1945
SUMMARY OF SERVICE:
Hailing from a family with a strong history of military service, Burdette "Shorty" Parrott joined the Iowa Army National Guard at age 20 in 1941 prior to the US entering World War II. His unit, Atlantic, Iowa's, 34th "Red Bull" Division 168th Infantry Company "K", was sent to Europe shortly after Pearl Harbor Day. After five to six months of training in Northern Ireland, Company "K" boarded a ship that would eventually land them in North Africa.
Company "K" was part of the first wave in the invasion of North Africa. Upon landing Nov. 8, 1942, Shorty and his fellow soldiers didn't see much action on the beach. But as they moved into Algiers that day, they encountered street fighting that killed two of their men. It was a jarring introduction and an ominous foretelling of the Company's challenges in World War II.
During their first couple of months in Africa, Company "K's" barracks were located at the Allied Force Headquarters in Algiers. They were assigned guard duty over General Mark Clark and the Hotel St. George, where Clark was staying. For two weeks, Shorty was honored to serve as Gen. Clark's bodyguard. He provided protection for Gen. Clark on a jeep trip to the airport where they picked up Col. Dwight D. Eisenhauer and drove back to the hotel.
On Jan.1, 1942, Company "K" was deployed to the front lines in Tunisia where they were captured along with some 20,000 other soldiers by the Germans at the Kasserine Pass. The soldiers were herded into a large pen they called "the bullpen", and shortly a plane landed and a car drove up. German field Marshall Erwin Rommel was in that car.
From the bullpen, Shorty and his fellow prisoners of war (POWs) began the journey from Africa to Germany. By foot, train, plane and boat, they traveled from Tunisia across the Mediterranean to Sicily; on to Naples, Italy, and through the Brenner Pass; across Austria and Czechoslovakia; and finally making their way to Germany. Their travel conditions were poor and often very cold. By train, men were tightly packed into boxcars. The Americans were bombing around them while they were in Sicily.
Once in Germany, the Company "K" POWs were taken first to Stalag VII A (Moosburg) where Shorty was given his dogtags. From there, they were taken to Stalag III B (Furstenburg), where they were held for two years. Food was scarce, with the prisoners being given only bread and wormy soup most days. Shorty recalled going to bed hungry every night for two years. During the time at Furstenburg, one of the POWs had a transistor radio, which they kept hidden from the German guards. News from England kept the POWs informed of the War's progress until the guards discovered and confiscated the radio in barracks 18B. Fortunately, the discovery of the radio took place only a short time before the War ended.
On Jan. 31, 1945, the Russians were closing in on Furstenburg, so the Germans forced the POWs to walk nearly nine miles to Stalag II A (Luckenwalde). During the march to Luckenwalde, storm troopers on horse lined the route to keep prisoners in line. Shorty remembered one prisoner stopping to adjust his backpack, and an SS trooper shot him right there. The remaining POWs didn't dare to stop, and someone dropped a coat over the dead soldier as they kept marching forward.
Some 10,000 POWs from all over Germany were brought to Luckenwalde. The prisoners were forced to stay in large tents lined with straw. Lice the size of matchheads were abundant, and Shorty recalled that they would spend the nights scratching and the days flicking the lice off their bodies. The 10,000 men shared one water faucet.
Liberation came on May 15, 1945, when the Soviet Red Army entered with tanks and knocked down Luckenwalde's fences. The POWs were glad for the arrival of the Russians, who treated the men well. The Russian soldiers enjoyed drinking vodka and would throw grenades in the local pond to "go fishing". It would be about three weeks before the Americans would arrive, and the Russians were developing plans to hold the American POWs for a bounty. When the American military and its might showed up, that plan went by the wayside.
After 27 months as prisoners of war, Shorty and his fellow POWs were taken to Camp Lucky Strike near the port of LeHavre, France, before boarding boats to return to the United States. Once back in the US, Shorty spent two weeks recuperating at Hot Springs, AK, before he received his discharge papers. On the way home to Iowa, Company “K” stopped in Kansas where a photographer with the Des Moines Register snapped a group photo. Shorty's aunt saw his photo in the newspaper, and she told Shorty's mother, Vera, that her son was back on US soil. Vera went to the train depot every day looking for her son until he arrived, and she was able to welcome him home.
For his courageous service, Sgt. Burdette Parrott was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, P.O.W. Medal, World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, American Campaign Medal, American Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.