by Tina Tidmore
Any Clay native who is about 90 years old may remember Clarence “Shorty” Goodwin. But until recently, no one — not even his wife — knew of his experience as a Nazi prisoner of war.
On Oct. 4, Goodwin told the Clay Historical Society about the challenges he faced physically, mentally and emotionally.
Like many veterans who experienced suffering during a war, Goodwin said he never spoke of it.
“I didn’t think people wanted to hear it,” Goodwin said. “I didn’t think people would believe me.”
He said he also wanted to spare his children from the horrors. Additionally, his wife told of her husband’s nightmares and he said he did see a psychiatrist.
However, after being prompted by Hilldale Baptist Church, Goodwin is now telling his story to other churches, students in schools and other groups.
“Folks, you don’t know what it’s like to be without the flag, without a country and without your family,” said Goodwin of why he is sharing his story now. He said at the worst times, he felt a peace from God.
“I believe I earned the right to speak about Jesus and God anywhere I want,” he said in reference to what he says at the schools.
As a machine gunner, Goodwin said he was involved in a battle in Italy where he survived with bullet holes in his clothing. After all but five of the 42 soldiers in his unit died in a battle on the water, he said he was put with another unit that continued the battle from one side of the river.
When the German army tanks drove up through one-inch deep water that appeared to be a river, the remaining four members of his new 21-man unit became prisoners, Goodwin said.
That’s when the torture started, he said. It included being poked with a hot poker under his thumb, months with very little food except what bugs he could find by digging into the ground, and many miles of walking with the fear that falling behind would mean the German Nazi soldiers would kill him, he said.
“If you get on the Hitler diet, you will lose weight,” Goodwin said. “I went from 176 to 106 pounds in three months.”
While on a train boxcar, a person from outside offered him some water, he said. Instead, Goodwin said the man was shot right then for offering the aid.
Goodwin mentioned seeing the Jews lined up, separated by gender and made to take off their clothes. He said they thought they were going to the showers, but he later saw they were put into gas chambers.
“The German people that had any years on them were good people and would help, as long as it did not endanger themselves,” noted Goodwin. However, he said that was not the case for the young Nazi men who had been trained from a very young age.
“I attempted to escape five times,” Goodwin said. “Each time I was put in solitary confinement. That didn’t bother near as much—the no food and darkness—as the silence. That will drive you up the wall.”
He imagined playing baseball games and his mother’s morning routines to keep his mind occupied in the silence.
“I still have trouble with the sunlight,” Goodwin said. “The darkness and the silence, that stays with you.”
One time, he said his escape attempt was successful by combining a scheme to pretend to be a little bit crazy and a quick dash to catch a train. However, he said he and his escape partner noticed the train was going in the wrong direction, back to Germany.
They jumped off the train, which his buddy did not appear to survive, Goodwin said. By following a river, he said he came up to the Russian army and joined them in fighting, thus ending his almost two years as a POW.
“A lot of people didn’t survive that and a lot of people can’t talk about it,” Goodwin said.
After being reunited with his family, who thought he had died in battle, Goodwin pursued professional baseball and found work through Continental in Avondale, Hayes Aircraft and later as a plumber
Goodwin can now reflect on those times and the resulting world developments from his own perspective.
“I can look back, and there was even a few good times as a POW,” Goodwin said. “I gave up one time, and I said never again.”
Goodwin said of the Holocaust deniers, “They should have been there.”
Goodwin’s political viewpoints are also influenced by his experiences. He said he figured the Russians would turn into America’s enemies after World War II because “we gave them all the equipment,” comparing the situation to Afghanistan today.
“It’s so sad that we can spend millions to help other countries, but can’t give good benefits to Iraqi veterans,” Goodwin said. “This is not the America I fought for.”