Linn County

Capt. John J. Shepard



“Big Guys Cried” at N. Y. Homecoming

One of the two sons of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Shepard, 501 Thirty-third street NE, has come home.

Released from the prison camp where he was held after being shot down over Hungary June 16, 1944, Capt. John J. Shepard of the Army Air Corps is back in Cedar Rapids on leave.

His brother, Capt. Robert Shepard of the 101st airborne division, has been hospitalized in Modesto, Calif., for many months, the result of an exploding fragmentation bomb during activities in the Arnhem sector.

Pilot of a P-38, John Shepard, a graduate of Iowa State College, went into service in January, 1942, several months before Bob, a Coe graduate. In October, 1943, he went overseas as a P-38 pilot. At Casablanca, he was assigned to the First Fighter group, and his operations subsequently were based in North Africa, Sardinia and Italy, with the targets in the Balkans, northern Italy, southern France and southern Germany.

By last June 16, Shepard had piled up 42 missions.

On June 14, his plane had been riddled but he made the 500 miles home on one engine. Two days later his luck ran out. “My number was just up,” he says.

Capt. Shepard was flying at about 27,000 feet when his formation was broken up by three enemy fighters. They hit his right engine and the carburetor, and the plane caught fire. Shepard got the fire under control and was limping along on a single engine when back they came again. The fire started up again and this time Shepard was forced to bail out.

He landed in Hungary with a broken ankle and burns. The Hungarians picked him up as he lay in a field. He was taken to a Budapest hospital, where he was kept about six weeks. The hospital was bombed and so he was moved to another.

In Solitary for 17 Days.

Next step was a prison on the outskirts of Budapest, where Shepard was thrown into solitary confinement—the initial t4reatment for all prisoners who landed there—for 17 days. The food? Watery soup. Then he was taken to Stalag Luft III.

“Stalag Luft III was a nice camp—we didn’t realize how nice it was at the time, but we appreciated it later,” Shepard said.

This was an officers’ camp, which Shepard emphasizes bears little resemblance to a concentration camp or even the camps in which the Nazis put our enlisted men. There was a lack of food, yes, but there was no abuse.

The way the German propaganda machine worked puzzled the Yank fliers. Newspapers printed in English and describing the good treatment Nazi prisoners were being given in the U. S. were distributed to the Americans.

Shepard thinks the so-called coddling of German prisoners had something to do with the treatment our officers received in return.

He firmly believes that the better treatment we give prisoners, the better treatment our men will get in Japan.

When the Russians started their drive in the direction of Stalag Luft III, the prisoners were moved on 30-minute notice. It was the night of Jan. 22, and the temperature stood at 15 degrees below.

Some Collapsed.

There were 2,000 men in the column. Some of them collapsed, and some of them suffered frozen feet. The only food issued was one Red Cross package.

Next prison was Nuernberg, at a site close to the marshaling yards, a violation of the Geneva convention. There was bombing. Conditions were miserable. There was no water except to drink and practically no food. What food there was had so many bugs, it became a joke.

On April 4, the men were moved from Nuernberg in the direction of Moosburg, close to Munich. The march took 17 days, but the weather was excellent and the walking was done in short shifts.

“We were taking as much time as possible by that time,” Shepard says with a laugh. But that time they knew rescue was on the way.

At Moosburg 9 Days.

They had been at Moosburg only nine days before liberation came on April 29. One of the men who had been at the hospital said he saw a column approaching, but no one would believe him. Then the Yanks came.

“As soon as we were liberated lots of the fellows gave the Red Cross $100 and they figure they still owe it $400 more. That’s what they think of it,” Shepard said. He points out that the men got not only food but clothing and supplies from the Red Cross.

After four or five days they men were flown to France, processed and sent home—they landed in New York May 9—to a homecoming that was “something like you read about but just can’t believe.” Boats whistled, ticker tape flew and big guys cried.


Shepard is on a 60-day leave, after which he reports at Miami for reassignment. He is with his wife and small son, John J. Shepard III, at 3220 E avenue NE.

The captain has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with six clusters. He wears the European theater ribbon with four serial campaign stars.

Source: Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 10, 1945, (photo included)