Sal Falato

By: Lauren Markella


This is a photograph of Sal Falato, an American Prisoner of War during World War Two.  He currently lives in Hamden, CT with his wife Clara.  

World War Two was a very tragic time for many people.  Millions of young men risked their lives to help protect their country.  Millions died but many were very fortunate and lived to tell others of their fascinating war story.
 Sal Falato is my grandfather’s best friend and my mom’s godfather.  He is now 85 years old but still lives to tell his fascinating story of being an American Prisoner Of War in Germany during World War Two.  Being captured by another country during a time of war is an event that no human should have to encounter during their life.  Sal was lucky enough to come out of the war alive but lost many of his close friends.  

Sal entered the war when he was 23 years old.  He left behind his loving wife Clara who was expecting a child shortly.  Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina was where Sal received his training.  He was in training as a first infantryman for sixteen weeks.  The rifle, 30 caliber machine gun, and BAR standing for Browning Automatic Rifle were the types of weapons Sal became familiar with.  His best marks were in the use of rifles and he became an expert rifleman. 

Being Captured

Two months before the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, Sal was assigned as a replacement in the first division in Givet, France.   Sal and the other soldiers were assigned to “mop up” from the damage already caused when Givet, France was taken over.  Next, they went into Hurtgen Forest, Germany where he first experienced real battles.  The purpose in Hurtgen Forest was to attempt to take over a small town named Waltersdorf, Germany.   While Sal and his squad were in the Hurtgen Forest, they went too far and were surrounded by a German Panzer Division.  This was a German division that used tanks and other armored vehicles during World War Two.  The Germans pointed their guns at Sal and the other 12-15  soldiers in the squad.  The American men had no other choice but to surrender. 

This is a photograph of a Panzer division tank.  This was the
division that captured Sal and the other American soldiers.

Experience in Prison Camps

The Germans took Sal and the other prisoners and made them take off all of their clothes.  They were given old, ragged suits to wear instead.  The Germans used their American uniforms in the Battle of the Bulge to impersonate Americans.  The new outfits had a KG written on the knees, which was short for "Kriegsgefangen" meaning Prisoner of War in German.  Sal was also given wooden shoes which he described to be actually very warm.  The POW’s were marched and all sent to different prison camps.  The POW’s were transported by boxcars, or cattle cars.  They were packed into these cars “like sardines.”  There was no food, water or bathrooms so many soldiers died in the cars.  Also, soldiers were killed in the cattle cars because they were not labeled with an American Red Cross.   A Red Cross sign would designate that the cars were American, but since no sign was present, Americans soldiers attacked the cars, accidentally killing their own men.    

The first German camp or Stalag that Sal was sent to was in Bonn, Germany.  Sal reached this Stalag on December 4, 1944.  He stayed here for two days leaving on December 6th.  Sal was then shipped again in the same boxcars with no food or water to another camp in Limburg, Germany.  Sal stayed at this camp from December 11th, to December 20th.  In this camp he stayed in barrack 12A.  A barrack is the prison cell or “room number” that Sal stayed in while at this particular prison camp.  The third camp was named Marburg, which was in Dresden, Germany.  4A was the barrack that Sal stayed in here.  Sal stayed in this prison camp from December 24th, to January 3, 1945.  Sal remembers that his first official meal was served to him here.  This was his first food and water since he was taken.  The POW’s had to stand in line waiting for their share of oatmeal.  Sal says that he had nothing to put his oatmeal in so he looked in the trash and found a tuna fish can.  He put his tuna fish can inside his hat and that’s how he ate his Christmas dinner.  The next camp was called Tripliz.  Sal stayed here from January 6th to January 12th.  4C was his barrack number here.  Sal remembers that in this camp the POW’s experienced friendly fire.  This was because there were no markings of American soldiers staying there and Americans thought it was a German camp.  The last camp that Sal was shipped to was named Bad Schandau.  This was Sal’s “main stay.”  Sal stayed at this Stalag from January 16th to May 10, 1945. 

While Sal stayed at this camp, the Germans made him do forced labor such as digging up water pipe lines and gathering pieces for the railroads but the Germans put the bars down themselves since they didn’t trust the POW’s.  Sal also says that when he was putting up water mains the Germans sealed it themselves because of little trust in the POW’s. 


This is a map of Western Europe during World War Two.  The map shows Givet, the location where Sal was taken.  It also shows the different locations of the prison camps Sal stayed in towns such as Bonn, Limburg and Dresdon.  Bad Schandau is the main prison camp Sal stayed at but this map has labeled many other prison camps in Western Europe.  The pink line represents the path of Sal's different prison camps he was brought to.    

Life as a Prisoner of War

Surviving as a POW was very difficult.  The prisoners were beaten with rifles.  They were only given one bowl of soup and 250 grams of black bread a day and a tablespoon of sugar and salt a week.  Sal remembers that sometimes he would get so hungry that he would see mirages.  He would pick up a stone thinking it was a potato and when he took a bite he would realize the truth.  Sal says, “You’d be surprised how your mind works.”  POW’s became sick and couldn’t work.  Sal said, “You became sicker if you didn’t work since there was no chance to steal.”  Most of the time Sal and his friends would steal food.   They stole potatoes and carrots and chickens.  Sal told one story of when he and his friend were putting in a pipeline and the guards had left to take a break.  Sal says,” This chicken was coming near me, and I said to my buddy Teddy, ‘don’t move! I’m gonna get it.’ The chicken got so close to me I don’t know what it was pickin at. I grabbed its neck fast.  I put it under my coat.  And then it didn’t breathe any more.  I was so happy.  I gave it to Teddy cause he was a big guy and he could hide it better than me.  I don’t remember how we did it but we cooked it when we got into the barracks and ate it.  That was a good thing I remember.” 

Sal remembers that one of the best memories at Bad Schandau was the fresh water.  He says that there was beautiful water coming from the mountain.  It was always steadily flowing and it was really pure. 

Sal's Escape to Freedom

As you can see from the map above, Camp Bad Schandau was located on the Russian side of the Elbe River.  The Allies and other American troops were on the other side of the river.  Near the end of the war fighter planes started to come near and Sal and his friends knew that the end of the war was nearing.  After the town of Dresden was bombed and over 200,000 people died, the Germans were not making the prisoners work as hard.  Pretty soon, the work guards left and old men came to guard.  Sal and the other men decided to try and escape since they weren’t under close watch.  They had a map that was given to them by the English so Sal and his friends knew where the American lines were.  They were trying to find a safe place to cross the Elbe River since they didn’t want to get caught by the Russians.  Sal says, “Even though the Russians were our allies we didn’t trust anyone.”  Sal says he got sicker every day and broke out in sores all over his body.  If they didn’t cross the river soon they would die.  They ended up stealing a truck and went into houses.  The people were frightened and quickly gave Sal and his friends food.  One house had a huge wine cellar and Sal and his friends celebrated by drinking wine from the bottles.

Life Afterwards

Eventually they made it across the river and came to the American camp called Camp Lucky Strike.  They were so excited to see their fellow soldiers.  “I ran over to them and they lifted me up.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”  Sal was so overjoyed and began to cry because he and his friends thought they would never get home.  At this time, Sal only weighed 98 pounds and when he first entered the army he weighed 150 pounds.  He and the other POW’s were sent to hospitals.  We were treated like kings,” says Sal.  They were given cigarettes, liquor and food.  They could barely eat because they were not used to eating so much food.  Sal eventually came back home to his wife and his new child.  To this day, Sal lives with his wife Clara in Hamden, CT and will live to tell his wonderful story for many more years.  

From this interview I have learned so much about World War Two and the soldiers' experiences.  It was fascinating to get to know Sal so well and learn about his war experiences.  It is impossible for me to imagine what Sal has gone through in his life.  From his story, I can relate more to what a soldier's experience was like in World War Two.  Sal suffered through a tough time in his life, which no one should have to go through, but he was strong and came out alive.  

After Sal returned home he drew his memories when he was a Prisoner of War.  


This is a picture that Sal drew.  It is of a German soldier and the Prisoners of War.  


This is a picture of a German soldier and Prisoners of War.  To the right, the drawing shows the prisoners getting their portion of food they recieved each week.  


This is a drawing of prisoners of war standing together, while the German soldiers are talking and pointing.  


Primary Sources

1.  Falato, Sal.  Personal Interview.    Falato Household, Hamden, Ct.   06518.  29 Dec. 2004


Secondary Sources

1.  Amour, James. "German 2nd Panzer Division."

2.  "Battle of Hurtgen Forest." Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. .  14 Nov. 2004.

3.  Herr, Ernie.  "Battle of Hurtgen Forest." 14  November 2004.

4. Kline, John.  "Battle of the Bulge."  Copyright 1996- 2005.  14 Nov. 2004

6.  Beck, Roger. Black, Linda. Krieger, Larry. Naylor, Phillip. Shabaka, Dahia. World History Patterns of Interaction.  McDougal Littell, Evanston, IL. Copywrite 2003.