By Stephanie Malench
On August 22, a true living hero will be celebrating his 100th birthday. Bob Teichgraeber of Collinsville was a POW during World War II for 421 days before escaping the Germans on April 15, 1945.
Teichgraeber joined the military in 1943 and started out in flight school for the US Army Air Corps at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. He then Flew to Nebraska where he started his journey to England.
Teichgraeber was a bomber assigned to a B-24 with the 445th Bomber Group. On February 24, 1944 Teichgraeber’s plane was one of 25 headed to Gotha Germany bomb a factory that made Messerschmitt fighter planes. The group was supposed to rendezvous with another 200 planes that would have provided additional protection, but they missed it.
The group leader decided to proceed. Enemy fighters ended up shooting down 12 of the 25 planes in the group. The remaining 13 dropped 2 ½ tons of bombs on the factory. Just a few minutes later, an enemy fighter attacked Teichgraeber’s plane head on, hitting the oxygen tank and causing the plane to catch fire and go down.
Teichgraeber jumped, trying to avoid the tank but hit and hurt his foot. The first camp he was in was the Luft VI in Prusia. The soldiers were then moved to Luft VI before eventually being marched across Poland the following February, sleeping in open fields or barns.
After they crossed the Elbe River, the Germans evacuated what was left of the camp to move east away from the British in April of 1945. During one of the prisoner counts, Teichgraeber and his buddy John were at the back of the line. On April 15, a disruption occurred at the front and the German soldiers quickly went ther to find out what was going on.
That was when Teichgraeber and John went back to the barn they had slept in and waited. They were eventually found by the British and rescued. He was with the British Army for five days, and was even clothed in their uniform, something that is rarely seen. Teichgraeber was then released to the Americans and returned home. As the ship he was on approached the Statue of Liberty, World War II had ended.
After returning to the United States, Teichgraeber went back to work at NCR National Cash Register in St. Louis where he devoted 39 years of his life, both before and after the service. Once her retired, Teichgraeber enjoyed hunting, fishing and coin collecting. Over the last 10 years, Teichgraeber has been lucky enough to be honored as one of the last living POWs. Ten years ago, Teichgraeber ras one of 25 veterans who got to go on a two day honor flight to Washington, D.C. coinciding with Veterans Day tribuntes. On his 97th birthday, he was gifted with a Quilt of Valor.
When asked how he lived to be 100, Teichgraeber said “The good Lord knows why I am here.” Teichgraeber still lives in his own home with his wife Rose and is her caretaker. She will be 98 years old two weeks after Teichgraeber. He still drives and mows his own yard. Every night he has cake and ice cream. Teichgraeber said he is very fortunate for everything he has.
An item of interest: when this reporter went to his house to interview him, Teichgraeber said “I really don’t know why you are here. There isn’t enough about me that people would want to read about. I’m just an old man that hopes to live to be 100.”