Hundreds of men where shuffled like cattle into wooden buildings in Krems, Austria.
Inside each barracks, beds were stacked three high with few blankets. Little coal was available for a single stove to generate much heat during the bitter cold winters.
Outside, wire fences charged with electricity surrounded the compound. Machine gunners manned four watchtowers.
It was 1945, and the place was called Stalag 17b.
This was home for German prisoner of war and Windber native Virgil G. Faust. A technical sergeant in the Army Air Corp, Faust was a radio operator on a B-17 when the plane was shot down during a bombing mission.
Faust, 91, was honored Friday, surrounded by family and friends, during a ceremony at the Presbyterian Home of Greater Johnstown.
“Today we should rejoice as we recognize Virgil Faust and his band of brothers,” said Douglas Lengenfelder, Cambria County commissioner and retired Air Force colonel.
“He endured 10 days of interrogations before being placed in Stalag 17 and was a prisoner of war for 21 months prior to being liberated by General Patton on May 3, 1945,” Lengenfelder said.
Local and state officials gathered for the outdoor ceremony. The event included a flag raising and wreath laying. Several other former POWs also attended.
Several fliers circulated quoting Faust.
“My plane was shot down during a mission to bomb a Schveinfurt ball-bearing plant,” Faust said in a news release. “I wandered around for 24 hours before finding a farm. The farmer’s daughter reported me to Hitler Youth, and I was taken in for questioning.”
Faust, a 1939 graduate of Windber High School, gave his name, rank and serial number.
On Friday, the frail, former POW stood at the podium to thank the many people who joined him.
“I want to thank you for celebrating my 68th anniversary of my liberation,” he said. “With that I’ll say thank you and good- bye.”
Proclamations were read by county Commissioner Mark Wissinger, state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Jackson, and a representative for U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley.
Family members later shared stories about Faust.
“He’s a very humble man,” said Dennis Holtzman, Faust’s son-in-law.
Prisoners were fed potato soup. But the Germans ate the potatoes and left the prisoners with only the broth, Holtzman said.
“He still won’t eat soup to this day,” Holzman said.
A volunteer at the Presbyterian Home came up with the anniversary idea, administrator Dave Thomas said.
“I learned a lot about World War II talking to him,” said Valerie Wendel, a volunteer. “I said, ‘Why can’t we put something together to honor him for his 68th anniversary?’ He (Thomas) said run with it.”
The POW camp was the subject of books, a stage drama and a movie called “Stalag 17.”
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