written by Lt. Col. Renita Foster

WWII Eighth Air Force historian and US POW expert, Marilyn Walton, sent us a response to her viewing of Masters of the Air (MOTA), Episode 9. Marilyn served as an advisor on the Apple TV + series and shared her expertise with us on Greatest Generation Live. Marilyn shares this post by Lt. Col. Renita Foster telling the full story of the flag-raising at Stalag VII-A on the day of liberation, an episode but long remembered by the 30,000+ POWs near Moosburg, Bavaria, Germany.

1945 WWII photo of Liberation of Stalag VII-A

1st Lt. Martin Allain, a B-26 pilot who had crash-landed in Tunisia in 1943, was only twenty-three when he stood before interrogators. Beneath his tongue, he hid a Sacred Heart medal given to him by his mother. It was the first of two prized possessions he would hide as a prisoner of war.

He eventually made it to Stalag Luft III near Sagan, Germany, where he was entrusted with the second treasure, a large American flag given to him by Lt. Col. Albert P. Clark, Jr. The flag had been smuggled into the camp and was to be displayed for identification if the Allied planes, by some miracle, appeared one day flying overhead.

Allain sewed the flag between two German blankets for safekeeping.

When the cold winds and driven snow had surrounded him on the Forced March from Sagan to the train station in Spremberg and from there to Moosburg, in January and February 1945, Allain wrapped the double blanket containing the flag around him more tightly.

During the following months of imprisonment at Moosburg, the flag, and his medal gave him solace.

Allain looked for bright spots in the dismal camp where he could. He once found an abandoned kitten which he nursed to health.

On day, returning to camp after a work detail, he found nothing left of the kitten but its skin.

On April 29th, “McGuffey,” the code name for the BBC, reported through hidden kriegie (short for kriegsgefangen, prisoner of war) radios that Gen. Patton’s Third Army was northeast of Munich. For the first time in months, men who had not allowed themselves to hope, began to whisper, plan, and pray.

The American forces had claimed victory, liberation was at hand, and all that remained was the tumultuous celebration that followed.

On Liberation Day in Moosburg, before thousands of cheering kriegies, a dirty malnourished man, clad in rags–1st Lt. Martin Allain–scrambled up the camp’s flagpole and ripped down the detested Nazi flag.

In its place, Allain hung the most beautiful sight the cheering crowd could behold, his cherished flag.

Sobs and laughter were the only anthem needed when the Nazi flag came down, and the Stars & Stripes was hoisted upward. Old Glory waved in brilliance, eliciting incredible emotion from thousands of newly freed prisoners.

Amid the deafening cheers, Allain made his way down the flagpole with the crumpled Nazi flag in his hands. He took the despised flag home after the war and always hoped the American flag remained in the camp.

A picture was taken of a U.S tanker with a POW climbing onto his tank right in front of the high-flying flag that had just gone up. Just after the picture was taken, the tanker accidentally shot himself in the hand with a “liberated” German pistol.

Allain became a much-loved pediatrician after the war. Always dressed in a coat and tie, he treated little ones with tenderness and love whether their parents could afford to pay or not. He cared for the handicapped children at Holy Angels School where he was on call for twenty-eight years, twenty-four hours a day.

Decades after liberation, any POW trying to tell the story of the flag that day would struggle to finish with his voice cracking. The visual image that Allain created for thousands of prisoners, like antique silver, would only gain more patina and definition with the passage of time.