Honoring those who have served as Veterans Day approaches

World War I POW ... Waukon native George A. Goeke is pictured above during his tenure of service in the U.S. Army during World War I. Submitted photo.

Article featuring Waukon native and WWI POW George Goeke shared by family

Editor's Note: George Goeke was a lifetime resident of Allamakee County and a local businessman who ran Goeke’s Sport Shop on West Main Street in Waukon in the late 1920s.  He was the father of Wesley, Allen and Ronald Goeke, all of whom still live in Waukon. His three daughters were Karen Delatte of Madison, MS, and the late Lorna Miller of Postville and Ruth Dotseth of Waukon. George’s grandchildren who are in the Waukon area include Jerry Goeke (Allen’s son), Randy Goeke and Wendy Ebner (Ronald’s son and daughter), Julie Alden and Nancy Welper (Ruth’s daughters), and Lisa Moose and David Miller (Lorna’s daughter and son).

The following article - dated June 15, 1919 from The Dubuque Telegraph Herald - was submitted by George’s granddaughter, Mary Anne McMillan Urell of Fountain City, WI (Ruth’s daughter), who herself is retired Active Army Guard. Her sister, Donna Gillespie, lives in La Crosse, WI and her brother, David Simon, lives in Bartlesville, OK. She is also in possession of many of his handwritten letters from his War Time service, which reflect much of the local history of the time. McMillan shared that mail was slow and often non-existent for the soldiers in the trenches and George did not receive much of his mail until almost four months after he had returned home.

His letters home contain snippets of his experiences and thoughts of home while a soldier at war. The morning before this final battle, he penned a continuation of a letter started the night prior that told of marching 24 miles overnight to the edge of the forest and how strange it was to hear the church bells ringing in the nearby villages for Sunday church and hearing the guns on the battlefront. He wrote of his trust in God to see him through this battle, but if he should not make it, for his family not to grieve as it would be God’s will to call him home. He told his family how much he loved them all. He closed with stating the need to get the letter in the mail to make sure it would go out, as he didn’t know when he would have an opportunity to write again.

McMillan said he was fortunate that he was wounded (described in the following article) so close to the end of the war in that his time in the actual prison camp was short. Maggots had gotten into his wound and ate all the infection out, which although McMillan says sounds awful, was actually a good thing as there was no medicine for him or the other prisoners.

McMillan said her great-grandmother, Augusta Goeke, never received notification of her son George's status of missing in action until a cablegram arrived November 30, after the war had ended. George’s sister, Laura Dundee, had died of the influenza outbreak December 2, 1918, as did her father-in-law a few days later, and while Augusta was at his funeral, she received word that George was no longer MIA but a prisoner of war. A very bittersweet moment, McMillan suggests.

McMillan said her grandfather never talked about his time in service, so she said the following news article in full was a "great find." "It answered many questions I had about his MIA POW time," she shared.

Waukon Boy Wounded and Captured by Germans, Tells of Prison Camp Life

Waukon, Iowa June 14 - George Goeke of Waukon, who recently returned from several months of active overseas service and who was wounded and captured by the Germans, tells interestingly of his experiences. Goeke was among the draft boys who left Waukon on February 25 last year, and was in training camps in this country only two months, leaving New York April 25.

He was a member of Company E, 139th infantry, and served with the 35th division. He was a battalion runner and scout and his duties in the Argonne region led him on many dangerous errands.  It was on September 29 that he left battalion headquarters on what was destined to be his last scouting errand of the war. He was detailed to cross an open space and enter and search some buildings which stood within 300 yards of the German lines, with instructions to remain there to observe the enemy movements and report back if any advance should then be commenced.

He crept across the open space in safety and reached a hedge in the road near the buildings and, thinking the hedge would protect, he stood on his feet for a moment when a bullet struck him in the abdomen. It was fired by a sniper who located him by means of a field glass. The bullet passed through his body and out near the spine, and he fell face downward in the deep mud where he lay from 10 o'clock a.m. until 4 p.m. when he was picked up by German soldiers, who were advancing for a counter attack.

His regiment had been forced to retreat because of having advanced so far that their flanks could not keep up with them. Goeke lay there conscious all that time, hopefully awaiting the arrival of some of his comrades or his sufficient recovery to creep back to the American lines. The Germans took him to a receiving station where he spent the night.

He was denied water and the sergeant in charge refused him any drink but a more accommodating corporal supplied him with beer at intervals. But his wound, a serious one, was not given the slightest attention. The next day, with the assistance of two men, he walked a mile to a first aid dressing station.

Here his clothes were taken from him and his wound was washed out with alcohol and dressed with a small piece of gauze and a paper bandage. His wound received no further attention than an occasional treatment of that kind, but it finally healed.

His next trip was to Sedan, France in a box car with a box for a bunk with a straw tick on it. The weather was chilly and he had no clothing but an undershirt and only a blanket for covering. His wound pained him terribly and prevented him lying down, and the torture of the ride from 8 o’clock in the evening until 10 o’clock the next forenoon he says was unbearable.

After eight days at Sedan, he went on a German hospital train across a corner of Belgium and through Luxemburg, to Trier, or Traves, Germany, where he remained for two weeks, having a brick barrack and good bed and bedding. This place was a German training school, the central building of which was used for allied prisoners of all nationalities. It was here that he first saw an American in Germany.

He was next taken to Letchfeld, where he remained about a month, or until about a week after the Armistice was signed. Here he was housed in hospital barracks at first, where he had a fair bed, but very little heat was supplied and he suffered much from the cold. The last week here, however, he was sufficiently recovered from his wound that he was taken to the prison camp, where he says the prisoners lay in the dirt with dirty blankets, with practically no heat, although the weather was cold and snow covered the ground.

He had been given back his khaki coat, trousers and shirt which were still caked in mud and dried blood, and these with a thin pair of cotton socks and wooden shoes which had been given him, constituted his entire outfit of clothes. His underwear had long before become so soiled that he had discarded it, as there was no means of washing it.

The rations allowed him were a small quantity of black bread and soup, with a very poor substitute for coffee. He was not given water at any time until he was able to get out after it himself. The coffee was always repelling since in the bottom of the cup was always a thick layer of what appeared to be mud, while the soup contained a small amount of corn meal or a similar product. George said he rather liked the taste of German black bread after he became accustomed to it, but it was not satisfying and he was always hungry. Prisoners who were able were kept at work and many times they fell from fatigue and hunger while lined up for mess.

During his stay at Trier, George overheard a conversation between some workmen about the camp, when one declared, “no matter what they may say to the contrary, I tell you there is a revolution coming to Germany.” The possibility of being caught corralled in the midst of a German revolution didn’t make his prison life any brighter.

The Red Cross failed to reach him until his last week at Letchfeld when two of the precious parcels arrived and were divided among the seven Americans at that place. They contained the first tobacco which they had had since being taken prisoners, also the first soap they had seen. He says they could trade a very small handful of soap to the German guards for a double handful of cigarettes.

It was not until December 5 that he was set free and traveled to Rastatt, where the Red Cross supplied him with clothing and food, and he discarded the wooden shoes of which he was heartily tired. He, with many other prisoners, reached Basle, Switzerland on December 6, where the Red Cross gave them a big reception and they filled up with real appetizing food after which they departed for France.

While awaiting a train at Stetsgard, a German woman who could speak English told him about the Kaiser’s abduction and said she would like to shoot the Kaiser for he had caused all the German people misery. After praising the wonderful country of America, the lady, who George says was by no means bad looking, asked him if he were married. George told her he was not and she very invitingly informed him that she was also unmarried. Upon a little longer acquaintance, George thinks he might have brought her along home with him.

Another woman engaged him in conversation on the train. She had formerly lived in Louisville, Kentucky, for several years and she declared that had the people of Germany known what the American purposes were in the war, they would have done away with the Kaiser long before. She told him that President Wilson was coming to Europe and said the German people were feeding them after the war.

George said that he saw no prisoners subjected to brutal treatment at any time, aside from neglect, but he can fully testify to their inhumane treatment in that regard. Wounds were given scarcely any attention while patients were retarded and hindered from recovery by the lack of nourishing food and water.

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