East Meadow residents were recently treated to a little-known chapter of history, when World War II veteran Bernard Rader visited the East Meadow Public Library on Jan. 23 to tell his story of being a prisoner of war.
About two dozen residents listened intently to Rader, 89, a native of Freeport, as he shared his tale of enduring nearly two months of German captivity in France before he was one of 149 Allied prisoners involved in a November 1944 exchange. The deal was negotiated by an American Red Cross field director named Andrew Hodges.
Rader, who buried his dog tags when he was captured so that German soldiers would not discover his Jewish heritage, explained how he survived several weeks in deplorable living conditions before being rescued. “It’s the story of an ambush, being wounded, being a starving POW … until a brave American Red Cross representative named Andrew Gerow Hodges saved my life,” he said.
Accompanied at the library by his wife of 60 years, June, Rader said he was drafted at age 19, and in 1943 he joined the 94th Infantry Division’s Company K as a rifleman. A year later, he landed on Utah Beach, Normandy. The war was less than a year away from its conclusion, and American troops were advancing further into Europe, overpowering the Axis powers.
On Oct. 2, 1944, Rader was part of a 55-man patrol deployed into Lorient, Brittany — on the west coast of France — where more than 60,000 German soldiers were not yet ready to give up the fight, he said. “Our job was to contain the Germans holding and guarding the roads,” said Rader, adding that the patrol was told that there was a group of German soldiers who wanted to surrender. Rader’s troop was responsible for locating them for interrogation.
But the American soldiers were ambushed by the Germans, and forced to surrender following a six-hour battle that involved machine guns, grenades and mortars. Five Americans were killed and many were wounded, including Rader, who was hit with shrapnel in both legs and both hands.