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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Memorial Day Story for Then and Now

Jack Kemp

In researching efforts to place service dogs with veterans, particularly organizations run by veterans themselves, I came across the Florida-based Vets Helping Heroes (, a charity that raises funds for multiple types of service dogs for both veterans and active duty military personnel in need of such dogs. Vets Helping Heroes was created by WW II bombardier Irwin Stovroff  and a Korean War veteran. A brief summary of Stovroff's World War II experiences can be seen at the beginning of a YouTube video concerning his charity's efforts to place service dogs with veterans. It is thirteen minutes long, called "The Gift of Life," and can be seen at!

A more detailed story of Irwin Stovroff's service is online at and I'd like to summarize and quote it here, as it tells not only Irwin Stovroff's story that of the men he served with in WW II.

On August 13th, 1944, Second Lt. Strovroff was on his thirty-fifty mission over Europe before being scheduled to go home to the States. Compared to his crew's earlier ones, deep over Germany, this was a supposedly easy one, a short bombing run to the Falais Pocket near Caen, France. His B-24 received a direct hit of flack, losing two engines and causing the crew to bail out over the German lines. Although his pilot was able to escape, Irwin was captured. During the parachute ride down, Strovoff threw away his dog tags identifying him as Jewish.

Irwin picks up the story:

"Within a week's time we were taken to a major Interrogation center outside of Frankfort, Germany.  I think it was called Wetzler.  We were separated and placed in solitaire, and individually taken out for  continued interrogations.  The German officer, my Interrogator...said, " I know who you are and what you are (meaning Jewish).  He told me he could save my life, then proceeded to name my father, mother, brother, sister, the grammar school I had attended, even the name of a former girlfriend.  He then said he lived on Ashland Avenue, next to the girl I was dating pre-war.  He had lived on the next street -- Claremont Avenue in Buffalo, New York.  He said he remembered being in class with my older sister, and then he informed me that I had been his newspaper boy!!  He had come to Germany to be with his grandmother, and stayed.  He again said he would help me, and he put a question mark on my records next to religion.


After solitaire at Dulag Luft, I like all others were packed into a boxcar for a 3 day transport to Stalag Luft I.  Our train was strafed by Allied fighters because the Germans did not put POW markings on the train.  We were also left in the marshalling yards in Berlin during a bombing raid.

Later in Stalag Luft #1, on January 19, 1945,  I was separated from the main compound of prisoners because I was Jewish.  I know the reason we were not killed was because of the courageous speeches of Col. Zemke and Col. Spicer,  who warned the German commander that if any American officers were harmed, they would be held responsible.  Col. Spicer was put in solitaire and sentenced to death for his speech.  He survived until the end of the war.


After the Dulag Luft (interrogation), I later found myself with my co-pilot Bill Manierre in a large room.  Bill pointed out a beat up and dirty POW who was staring at us.  Did I know who it was?  I looked at the man and said 'no'.  Bill said, 'he must know you' and I replied, 'I can't figure out who he is.'

Suddenly Bill exclaimed, "My God! THAT'S MY BROTHER."  His brother immediately recognized Bill, and they met and embraced.

The Germans were flabbergasted when they found out this was happening.  Major Cy Manierre was a West Point graduate who had been dropped into France, and was working with the French Underground when captured and tortured.  He told Bill and me to repeat his story, that he was a member of the Air Corps, had been shot down and picked up by the French Underground.  If the Germans knew the truth, he could have been shot as a spy.  They believed him, and he was sent to the same camp as Bill and I.  Their mother received two telegrams on the same day, 1:00 AM, 1:00 PM on both sons - Missing in Action.  "fact is greater than fiction."


“We would have starved if not for the American Red Cross,” he says. He spent about a year in the stalag before being liberated by Russian Cossacks, who rode into the prison camp on horseback with guns blazing, winning Stovroff’s freedom.  Stovroff has a lot of stories, and he tells them with enthusiasm, humor and just a touch of pathos—like the time his squadron was attacked by newfangled German jets over the Baltic Sea.

“These things without props came out of nowhere and shot down 15 of our planes,” he says, shaking his head. “No one had ever seen anything like it. One hundred and fifty men … all lost.


Now a retired businessman, Irwin Stovroff is working to help his mostly younger fellow veterans get the help they need. His story is an inspiration to us all this Memorial Day.

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