Milton O. Price Sr.

World War Ii Veteran Who Was Held As A German Pow For About Six Months Later Became A Bge Statistician

August 06, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Milton O. Price Sr., a retired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. statistician who had been a prisoner of war during World War II, died of a heart attack Saturday at Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He was 89.

Mr. Price was born in Baltimore and raised on Garrett Avenue. After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1937, he served for four years in the Naval Reserve before he began working at BGE.

Drafted into the Army on April 23, 1941, Mr. Price was to have served one year of active duty.

"Pearl Harbor changed all that, and he was in for the duration," said his son, Milton O. "Buddy" Price Jr. of Belcamp.

He served 2 1/2 years with the 29th Infantry Division, 175th Infantry Regiment, Company B, training in England for the D-Day invasion.

Mr. Price did not land in France on June 6, 1944, because he had been reassigned to the Army Air Forces, where he was trained as a tail gunner aboard B-17 Flying Fortresses.

"I am convinced that had I stayed in the 29th, I wouldn't have had much of a chance," Mr. Price told The Baltimore Sun in a 2004 interview.

Assigned to the 487th Bomb Group, 839th Bomb Squad, Mr. Price was on a mission over Hamm, Germany, in October 1944 when his B-17 was struck by enemy flak, which destroyed one engine and left another on fire.

Unable to control the bomber, the pilot ordered the seven-man crew to bail out.

"I can't describe it," Mr. Price recalled in the interview. "You don't know what's in store for you. The pilot just gave you an order to jump. You've never jumped before, and you're jumping into enemy territory."

Landing uninjured in a field, Mr. Price was immediately captured by two German solders who took him to Stalag Luft IV near Grosstychew, Poland, where he was confined to a dormitory room designed to hold 12 prisoners that was filled with 25 other POWs.

"Nothing is like freedom," he said in the interview. "You don't realize how precious it is until it's taken away from you."

In February 1945, Mr. Price was sent to a camp in Nuremberg. Normally, the trip by train took no more than six hours, but Mr. Price and his fellow prisoners spent a week crammed together in a locked boxcar in the bitter cold.

Two months later, Mr. Price along with other POWs were moved again to a camp at Moosburg, near Munich, escorted by elderly German guards.

"We could have escaped any time," Mr. Price said. "But if the Gestapo or an SS trooper caught you, they wouldn't ask any questions. They would shoot."

They arrived at Stalag VII-A in mid-March, where Mr. Price and his fellow prisoners were confined to large canvas tents.

Liberation by the Army's 14th Armored Division came April 29, 1945, when 110,000 POWs, some who had been held there since 1939, were finally freed.

That afternoon, the Nazi flag that flew over Moosburg's City Hall was torn down and replaced with an American flag.

More than 100 POWs - including Mr. Price - signed the Nazi flag, which today is on display at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler, Ga.

The day after Stalag VII-A had been liberated, Gen. George S. Patton Jr. rode into the camp aboard a half-track, and was swamped and heartily welcomed by former POWs.

"He stood there and spoke to us, and if he would have gotten down, everyone would have kissed him," Mr. Price said. "We knew that until we saw him, nothing was certain. He was freedom. We knew then we were going home to our loved ones."

Discharged in October 1945, Mr. Price returned to work at BGE while studying at night at the University of Baltimore, where he earned a law degree in 1949.

Mr. Price, who worked 15 years in gas manufacture, spent the last 30 years of his career in the rate department, retiring in 1984.

He also worked with the Federal Power Commission in Washington, monitoring natural gas cases.

He also had a second career as a security supervisor for Pinkerton, working at the Maryland Hunt Cup and at many Colts and Navy football games.

Mr. Price was also part of the security detail at the inaugural balls for presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

He was a member and past commander of the Maryland North Chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, Limestone Post 72 of the 29th Division Association and the Mason's Mount Nebo Lodge.

For years after the end of World War II, Mr. Price wanted nothing more than to fade into civilian life and had little interest in discussing his wartime experiences.

"In recent years and especially after he became involved with the POW organization, he began to talk about what had happened, to his grandchildren," his son said.

"It's something you were very happy to forget about," the elder Mr. Price said in the 2004 interview. "When you lose your freedom and you have to depend on people who hate you, there's no way to describe your feelings."

He added: "None of us will be around too long. My story, and the story of so many others, deserves to be told - even if the memories are sometimes painful."

The former longtime Hydes and Bel Air resident was a 50-year member of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweet Air, where services were held Wednesday.

Also surviving are his wife of 68 years, the former Vera Zepp; two daughters, Vera Jean Bittner of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Cynthia Manas of San Diego; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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