Bob Teichgraeber was held as a prisoner of war for 421 days at various German prisons during World War II. Like many veterans of his era, Teichgraeber rarely spoke about his war experience.
Unlike his World War II comrades, however, Teichgraeber stashed an unusual photo in a drawer in his Collinsville, Ill., home for 72 years. “I thought there was a stigma about being a captive,” said Teichgraeber, 97, a longtime member of American Legion Post 365. “That’s the way it was. I wasn’t vocal about it.”
The photo depicts Teichgraeber in a British Army uniform after he was freed. While it was common for the British to provide whatever clothes were available to freed GIs, World War II historians say such photos are rare.
Teichgraeber was captured Feb 24, 1944, when his plane was hit while returning home from a bombing run. He fractured his right ankle when he parachuted out, landing in a farmer’s yard in Eppstein, Germany.
During captivity, the 5-foot-5 Teichgraeber went from 140 to 90 pounds. He survived the brutal 86-day hunger walk in the cold, snow, in addition to lice, fleas, dysentery and more. “We were young,” he says simply. “We endured it.”
One day while being held in an abandoned home surrounded by farmland, Teichgraeber and his friend, John Bulla were awakened suddenly. “About 5 o’clock in the morning, the door opened up — ‘You’re free!’” Teichgraeber recalls one British soldier yelling. “We went out and found some rifles and bayonets.”
Teichgraeber and Bulla shared some eggs and a single potato. As they relished their first hours of freedom, the war remained close by — at one point a German shell landed less than 100 meters away. They took refuge in an abandoned home. The Brits cleaned them up, giving them a shave, haircut and British uniform for clothing. Then they were flown to Belgium to reunite with American troops.
Since rediscovering the photo, Teichgraeber’s time as a POW has dominated his thoughts. “Every day I think about it,” he says, motioning to a table overflowing with documents, maps and more about his experience. “It’s prevalent now because of this stuff here. You can remember so much vividly, but yet you can’t remember a lot.”
We honor you, Robert Teichgraeber.