Thomas Bittner

[ Age 86 ] Army Air Forces sergeant was among thousands forced to walk in what became known as the Black Death March

December 11, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Reporter

Thomas Edward Bittner, a retired envelope company employee and a World War II prisoner of war who survived the Black Death March, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Perry Point. The lifelong resident of Baltimore County was 86.

An Army Air Forces sergeant, he flew 23 missions before he was shot down over Austria and captured July 4, 1944. He was imprisoned in Stalag Luft IV, a German prisoner of war camp. In February 1945, as Russian forces approached from the east, he was among thousands of American and Allied prisoners forced to walk hundreds of miles west and north in the bitter cold in what became known as the Black Death March. He was liberated in May 1945.

The fifth of 12 children, he was born in Hamilton. He was a 1940 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School. Within a few years, he joined the Army Air Forces and became an aerial gunnery instructor before he was sent overseas. He spent about three years in the military.

He graduated from the University of Baltimore before starting a 27-year career in sales for Oles Envelope Corp. He retired in 1976.

He lived in Towson most of his adult life and was a member of the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson for about 40 years.

In his younger years, he enjoyed vegetable gardening and small-game hunting. He was a cancer survivor, and in his retirement he volunteered with the American Cancer Society, the Lost Chord Club of Maryland and St. Joseph Medical Center.

"He talked to kids a lot about the dangers of smoking," said his daughter, Jeanette Brown of Perry Hall. He also worked with cancer patients who had had their larynxes removed, she said.

He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, Notre Dame Council No. 2901.

His two marriages ended in divorce.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 200 Ware Ave., Towson.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Charles Bittner of Parkville; three brothers, John F. Bittner of Kingville and Joseph N. Bittner and Alfred Bittner, both of Hamilton; five sisters, Catherine Marie Bittner and Margaret Mary Bittner, both of Hamilton, Mary Lidard and Dorothy Ingham, both of Annapolis, and Patricia Barnaba of Towson; and four grandchildren. A son, David F. Bittner, died in 1988.

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