In February my family lost our last relative who served in World War II, my Uncle Danny Maus. He was 88-years-old, which is longer than almost anyone has ever lived on that side of the family. Apparently, he was a tough one.
Technically “Uncle Danny” was my cousin. My grandfather, John Maus, was the youngest child in his family. Danny was his older sister Viola’s son. They were pretty close in age but because Grampa Maus thought of Danny as a whippersnapper, we all did too. And Danny was one who always had a twinkle in his eye. I’m not even sure if people outside our family called him “Danny,” he might have been “Dan” to the rest of the world. We always called him and his wife “Danny and Dinny.”
We didn’t get to see Danny very often because he worked and raised his family in Baltimore. We all lived around Buffalo growing up. The distance between those two cities seemed like a vast expanse back then. Baltimore seemed foreign and ultrasophisticated to me as a child. This impression was confirmed by three facts. Danny’s wife Dinny had a career, she wasn’t just a full-time mother. AND, that career was drawing slick fashion sketches for a big newspaper. Plus, once, in the bag of hand-me-down clothes from Danny’s daughters I so coveted, there was a set of pajamas that looked just like what Barbara Eaton wore on “I Dream of Genie.” Amazing.
We were told that Danny never talked about the war, so we should not bring it up. I never did and I’m glad. Words cannot fully express the suffering that that three-letter word represented to my Uncle Danny and, sadly, to millions of others.
But these are some of the words from his obituary and they speak volumes: “In 1942 (at age 18), Dan enlisted in the army and became a staff sergeant with the 15th Army Air Corps, 484th Bomber Group. Based in Italy, he flew B-24 Liberators. He was trained as a radio operator, but volunteered to become the tail gunner when no one else wanted that duty. On August 19, 1944 Sgt. Maus was shot down over the mountains near the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. Several days later, when he could no longer go on without water, Dan went to a pond to get a drink. He was captured at the pond by a local goat herder who turned him over to the German authorities. He was initially imprisoned in the POW Camp, Stalag Luft 4 in Gross Tychow, Poland and later shipped to Stalag Luft 1 near the Baltic in Barth, Germany. He survived inhumane treatment, torture, terror, thirst and starvation, which included being herded by dogs with metal pointed collars, he was prodded by SS troops with bayonets, packed into overstuffed box cars, fed bread with ground glass in it and enduring a freezing winter where he and the other prisoners left outside would cover themselves with snow to stay warm…At the end of the war, Dan’s POW camp was liberated by Stalin’s Russian troops who put POWs into a cart and started heading east. He jumped out of the cart and ran as fast as he could. The Russians shot at him and missed. He eventually found British troops and safety…Dan weighed 180 lbs. when he enlisted and weighed 70 when he was released…”
Danny’s obituary was prepared by his daughters, Sherri and Dawn. It also notes that he received many honors for his service and that my “Aunt Dinny’s” name is actually Marylou.
Only now that I have a son approaching 18 can I begin to imagine the unspeakable horror our soldiers endure. But don’t cry about all this—laugh with my Uncle Danny, I know he’s playing cards and cracking jokes with the boys in heaven now.
To honor Danny and so many others, memorial donations may be sent to: American Ex-Prisoners of War, 3201 E. Pioneer Parkway #40, Arlington, TX 76010.