Second World War: Rocket Scientist

Soldier recounts the extraction of rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun from Germany during the Second World War.

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With the defeat of Germany in the Second World War, the scientists feared that Nazi SS officers would use them as hostages to negotiate with the Allies, or would kill them so that they could not help the Allies. The scientists had the choice of surrendering or being captured. I was ordered to pick up a rocket scientist who wanted to surrender and his technical equipment.

A corporal and I drove to the designated street corner in Magdenburg to meet the scientist. He was neatly dressed in civilian clothes, wore a hat, looked about 35 years of age and spoke good English. The German willingly climbed into the truck to go about eight miles to Leipzig to pick up his equipment. When we arrived in Leipzig, the scientist pointed out the garage where he stored technical equipment. He asked permission to enter the house. Knowing that other Germans occupied the house, I feared the consequences if the scientist joined them. I hesitated before replying, "No, you can't enter the house, but you may ask one person to come outside."

A colleague joined the scientist. They had a long discussion in German, which I did not understand. Finally the scientist said, "You may load the equipment on the truck." I backed the vehicle to the garage to load boxes and parts. I sighed with relief as we drove off - but I failed to anticipate the scientist's next move.

We were still in Leipzig when the scientist said, "1 will not go unless I see my wife. She resides on a farm in the hills, about 10 miles from here." Knowing that the scientist must not fall into Russian hands, I decided to take the side trip. When we reached the farm, the German entered the house. He returned to say, "I'm taking my wife and baby."

We loaded a baby crib and other family possessions on the truck and rearranged the equipment to make his wife comfortable in the back of the enclosed canvas-top truck. We drove approximately 90 miles to the planned meeting place, a railroad station.

Upon arrival, two Army officers in a jeep directed us to a special train waiting on the tracks. The officers escorted the scientist and his family to a passenger car; the corporal and I loaded the technical equipment in a baggage car. Just as soon as we had finished loading, the train pulled out.

Watching the train in the distance, I reflected on the fact that from about 10 a.m. to dusk, I had participated in international looting in eastern Germany just hours before the Russians took over.

Of course, I did not know then that the German scientist was the late Wernher von Braun. He, his brother Magnus, and 113 other talented members of the German rocket team - along with

V-2 parts and almost 14 tons of V-2 paperwork - were transported to the United States.

Robert P. Anderson
Tempe, Arizona

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.