HAWLEY - Among the many stories that came out of Hawley during World War II, as it did in towns big and small across America, were ones of great bravery and endurance. This is one such story, of 2nd Lt. Robert H. Monaghan, whose family back in Hawley received the news, “Missing in Action.”
   He was one of the fortunate ones. Monaghan survived the war, and went on to raise a family and operate a successful family business. He ran the Erie Garage across from Bingham Park- the building known today as Hawley Borough Hall.
  The Hawley Times, during the War, was filled with word of how their sons and daughters were doing in the service, from serving in vital roles stateside to missions in the European or Pacific Theater as they fought the Axis Powers.
   The edition of June 29, 1944, page 1 top right corner declared in a headline that  Lt. R. H. Monaghan was reported missing over Belgium.
  The story filled the right hand column and contained a picture the G.I.
   “Second Lt. Robert H. Monaghan, 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick H. Monaghan, of 407 Wangum Avenue, was reported missing in action on a mission over Belgium on June 12th in a telegram received Saturday from the War Department in Washington. He was a bombardier on a United States Flying Fortress,” the article started out.
   In later years, his son, Bob Monaghan of Portland, Oregon, compiled a book on his father’s military service. He shared a copy of the book, for the purposes of this account.

Hawley High School graduate

   Robert Henry Monaghan was born June 15, 1919 in Hawley to Patrick and Emily Monaghan. Also at home at the time was his brother Joseph, two years older. Their father was a glass cutter; the Monaghan family operated the Wangum cut glass factory at the end of Wangum Avenue near River Street. Robert also had two younger sisters, Alice and Evelyn.
  Robert graduated from Hawley High School in 1937. That summer he attended Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Meade. There was no obligation to active duty by enrolling.
   Prior to his induction he studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tennessee. At the request of his parents, he stayed home after his second year to aid his father in the family garage business.
   His draft notice came April 7, 1941. Joining the Army, he was assigned to Battery C, 2nd Coast Artillery Training Battalion, Fort Eustis, Virginia. He volunteered to be stationed in Hawaii, with the notion that this would shorten his time in the service.
   Pvt. Monaghan shipped out for Hawaii, where he became Gun Commander for an an-aircraft team, with the 98th Coast Artillery Regiment.
   He was promoted to corporal on January 17, 1942.
  He was expecting to be shipped home in February, but not later than July. The U.S. was not involved in the War at that time; his superiors told him departures for the mainland would depend on what Hitler did. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th changed everything.
   Attracted by a poster for Flight Cadet, the corporal signed up for flight school. In 1943 he was selected for bombardier training in Roswell, New Mexico. He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant upon discharge in October.
   He was able to enjoy a 10-day furlough to his home in Hawley in March 1943. He was Aviation Air Cadet at the time.
   In February 1944 a B-17 took him to Thurleigh, England. Lt. Monaghan was with the 306th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Lt. Monaghan flew on 13 bombing runs in the spring of 1944 to France and Germany. His combat wing flew in tight formation at 20,000 to 30,000 feet, at temperatures as low as 60 below zero. Crews wore heated suits, oxygen equipment, Mae Wests and parachutes.

M.I.A.

  It was the end of June 1944 that word was received back home that he was M.I.A. A little more than a month later, his family and community would learn his fate. The August 5, 1944 Hawley Times, page 1, top right declared, “Lt. Monaghan Safe; Prisoner of Germans.”
  At home, his sister Alice received word her brother was Missing in Action. She broke the news to her family. On July 28th, the were informed that Robert was a Prisoner of War.
  They were aboard a B-17 on their 13th mission, with a goal to bomb a railroad industrial center in France.
   The 40th Combat Wing over-shot a control point on the Dutch coast due to heavier winds than expected. Heavy ant-aircraft fire damaged 29 planes, 10 severe. Lt. Monaghan’s aircraft, the Myassam Dragon, was down to one engine and on fire; the crew was forced to bail out.
  He parachuted with an arm bandaged from shrapnel wound. He landed on his side. Other crew members were injured or dead. The Germans captured seven of the crew near the town of Bevern, Belgium.  
   Officers and enlisted men were split up. The officers were taken by prison rain to Dulag Luft, an interrogation center and placed in solitary confinement. They could not tell if it was night or day.
   The German interrogator spoke excellent English and used cigarettes and baseball chat to try and get close to the prisoners. They gave only their name, rank and serial number.
   A doctor treated Monaghan’s arm. He was assigned to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, now a part of Poland. This was a P.O.W. camp for officers who were from air crews; both Americans and British and some others. It was run by the Luftwaffe.
   He was Prisoner No. 6337.

POW camp

   Covering 500 acres, camp was surrounded by two parallel fences, 12 feet high with barbed wire between. Armed pill boxes were scattered beyond the fence and trained dogs prowled the outer boundaries.
  The camp became famous for two escapes by tunneling, chronicled in books and films, “The Great Escape” and “The Wooden Horse.”
   The 800 Luftwaffe guards were either too old for combat duty or young men convalescing after long tours of duty or recovering from wounds. Stalag Luft III housed as many as 2,500 Royal Air Force officers, 7,500 U.S. Army officers and about 900 officers from other Allied forces.
   They had the most well organized recreational program of any POW camp in Germany. This included athletic fields, volleyball courts, basketball, softball, boxing, touch football, volleyball, table tennis and fencing. They formed leagues. Prisoners could even occasionally swim in a pool meant for fire protection. There was a substantial library where courses were offered, run by the Red Cross.
  Prisoners built a theater and put on quality bi-weekly shows. They used an amplifier to broadcast news and music, calling it station KRGY. The camp published two newspapers, four times a week.
   Each compound had 15 single story huts with triple decker bunks. Lt. Monaghan’s group bunk room was nicknamed the “We’ve Had It Club.”

Enjoyed cooking

   Lt. Monaghan wrote home that he enjoyed cooking alone as it took all day and a nice way to spend his time. Red Cross packages provided vital food supplements to what the Germans gave them.
   He was also able to attend Mass at camp. He kept religious notes in his prayer book.
   His letters home sought to reassure his family that he was doing all right. On November 9, 1944 he wrote that Christmas is approaching, and asked that his parents buy presents from him for the family.
   All letters and post cards abruptly ended in January 1945. Mail delivery was difficult due to the Allies advance in Germany. Hitler ordered the camps to be evacuated. Thus began Lt. Monaghan’s challenge to stay alive during a brutal march towards Bavaria in bitter cold and snow. It became known as the Sagan Death March.
   The Soviet Army was advancing through Poland towards the German border.  The camp commander ordered the first movement of prisoners to keep them away from the Russians.

Difficult days

   Lt. Monaghan kept a daily diary telling of their privations, misery and glimmers of hope as they marched or were were shuttled by rail, stuffed tightly in box cars that winter. Conditions in the box cars were decrepit. There was not enough room for everyone to lay or sit down at the same time. They stayed some nights in churches, barns and a pottery factory. There was little sleep, little to eat and sickness.
  At Leippa, where they were lodged in a barn during a snow storm, people gave them onions, milk, hot water and apples, in exchange for cigarettes and soap.
  In one of his letters home he said when the train stopped, the prisoners got off and foraged the field for frozen rotted cabbage left over from the harvest.
   Some days were better than others. The pottery factory provided heat and a floor to sleep on. They were able to have Mass at times. One farmer let them use a stove to cook and gave them hot water.
   In early February they arrived at Wehrmacht Stalag VIIA prison camp, which Monaghan described as a “pig sty” and many prisoners were sick. The prisoners played games of chance with cigarettes. Monaghan won a watch and on another day won a can of mixed nuts,  plum pudding and two fruit bars. He split it with three other men.
    “Breaking the monotony of this life very difficult,” he wrote in his diary. “The best way is to be very slow and meticulous at whatever you are doing. It keeps me busy. Hope present allied offensive continues.”
    One day after the group received some Red Cross parcels to divide up, Monaghan paid 16 cigarettes for his first fresh eggs in 11 months. “Made omelet of milk, eggs, mashed spam. It was excellent.”

Liberation

   There was rumbling that the war would soon be over. The Allied armies were making their advance.
   By April, Stalag VIIA, designed to hold 14,000 POWs, now held 130,000 evacuated foremother Stalags. There were 500 men living in barracks built for 200; many slept in tents.
   Diary entry April 29, 1945: “Started at 9 a.m. lasted until 12 noon. American 7th Armored Division tank came into camp preceded by two peep with LTC Lamb hiding in peep. Battle was between Americans and Rearguard troops. Received communion this morning. All men in camp were safe. Three were wounded.”
   The POWs were free. Lt. Monaghan had been a German Prisoner of War 10 months and seven days.
   On May 7th he and the others were flown on a C-53 to Le Havre, France, and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike.
   Diary: “Had a shower and deloused. Had excellent hot meal. Issued four blankets and mess gear.”
  He wrote his parents on May 10th, “…I expect to be home soon, so stock up on food and save the gas coupons. I hope to be home for my birthday.”
 
Homecoming
   
   Having arrived in New York, Lt. Monaghan departed for Hawley on June 17, 1945. He was met by his mother Emily father Patrick and sister Alice at the railroad depot. Alice said they did not recognize him as he approached. “Only after he addressed them did the parents realize it was their son. Former POW Monaghan’s appearance resembled a walking skeleton,” his son penned in the book many years later.
  After 60 days at home, he was stationed in Florida at Homestead Amy Air Field. He was finally discharged from the Army Air Corps on November 8, 1945 at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation.
   On September 21, 1945, he married Mary Jane Murphy. They made their home at 212 Wangum Ave., Hawley. Bob and Jane raised five children, Robert, Patricia, Richard, James and Daniel.
   After the war he was active with American Legion Post 311, Hawley. He served as Commander, 1956-1957. He was also an active e member at the Catholic parish in Hawley.
   He worked at the the Erie Garage, the business his father had started. After the garage was sold tin the early 1960’s, Monaghan worked as an auditor.
   As is the case with so many returning service personnel, Monaghan was suspected to have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).  “Our family observed the ‘antsy behavior’ as he was always wandering in stores, shops, around town,” his son later wrote. He said he could not take the cold since his feet had froze during the sub-zero Sagan March.
   After release from the Army he complained of numbness it his feet. He underwent surgery in 1967 on a  nerve. His stability worsened over the years. In later years he eventually fell and broke his hip. Lt. Monaghan died at age 80, on August 4, 1999 at the VA Hospital in Wilkes-Barre. He was laid to rest at Queen of Peace Cemetery.
  His son Bob wrote that while serving in the 5th Special Forces in Viet Nam, he met a sergeant who thought Bob looked familiar. Conversation revealed that the sergeant had also been a POW in Stalag Luft III, and remarked that Bob looked very much like his father. Bob asked his father, who replied he remembered him as well.

Editor’s Note: At the request of his son Bob Monaghan, the copy of the book he compiled about his father’s military record is being donated to the Hawley Public Library. The book contains much more information than can be told here.