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Bob Noble of Quincy was a P.O.W. in Germany during World War II. Here is his story:

The 18-year-old kid heard German spoken in the dark and wondered, Hey, who’s fooling around? He poked his head up from his slit trench on a hill in Alsace-Lorraine, a region disputed for centuries, and spied a group of men standing maybe ten yards away. It was hard to make them out, gray figures in the black. More German sounds traversed the cold air and Bob Noble gripped his rifle.

“A lot of things happened because of decisions that I made,” Bob says now, “and I don’t know why I made some of them.” In the trench that night, Bob leveled his weapon at the huddle of ghost-men. The enemy’s guttural language choked his ears.

He didn’t shoot. He heard a voice in his head: “Don’t do this.” The men he had picked out for death, in fact, were not Germans. They were American GIs who had just been captured by enemy forces infiltrating their position from the rear. Moments later, Bob was captured, too. It was December 16, 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge had begun 90 miles to the north.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” says Bob of the events that led to his capture, to misery, and to survival. Events that led to his wife Gloria and their son and three daughters, to ten grandchildren and two great-grandkids. To Boston College on the GI Bill and 35 years as an engineer. To this pleasant morning in their condominium, the walls held up by framed family photographs. “You make a decision,” he says, “but you don’t know the consequences.”

The POWs, forced to carry injured German soldiers wrapped in blankets, were marched to a barn on top of the Siegfried Line. American artillery started up and a shell destroyed a wall not ten feet from Bob. “It was like a dream,” he remembers. They followed their guards down a stairway into a blast-proof room built for the last war, the Great War. In the morning, the POWs were led out of town as it burned. American shells continued to fall without ever asking, Friend or foe?

Bob Noble’s story was part of the Journey Out of Darkness exhibition at the Museum of National Heritage in Lexington, Mass. from May 20, 2006 to January 7, 2007. The Journey Out of Darkness book of oral histories contains other WWII P.O.W. stories and is available at the Thomas Crane Public Library.

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