Theodore G.J. Hagedorn ’38

Hagedorn '38

Theodore G.J. Hagedorn '38

(1920–2009)
Deutsche Luftwaffe, Lieutenant

From Recollections of World War II, compiled by J. Read Murphy ’38; pages 61–62

I can well imagine that it means requiring from you, the class of ’38, who are veterans of the “other side,” a great deal of understanding for my voluntary decision to join the Deutsche Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in the beginning of 1940. In order to view things in context, I must explain that, prior to my exchange year at Andover in 1937/38, I had spent several years at the Bavarian boarding school. This school was imbued with a world of thoughts about Germany developing into a successful nation, both politically and economically, after the end of WWI and its consequences. At that time, there was a general willingness among young men in Germany to join the services. The entire population considered this to be normal and self-evident.

After intensive training at different camps, I was in Northern Africa (Libya) with a Stuka (dive-bomber) from the end of 1941 up to my wounding in June 1942. We were also on duty with fighting British conveys and supply vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. On the 12th of June 1942, after a bombardment of ships in the seaport of Tobruk, our aircraft was shot at by a British Hurricane. That was when my left ankle was shattered.

The gap in my memory starts with being taken to the main field dressing station. The following morning I woke up in white bed linen, not feeling any physical pain. After inquiring a Red Cross nurse about my stay in that particular room, she vanished and came back with a white-coated man who turned out to be the doctor of the hospital in Chania (Crete). Asking him why I was there, he told me to lift my blanket. Following his instructions, I perceived that my left foot was missing. Naturally, this sent me, a passionate athlete, into a state of shock. I had to spend the ensuing 18 months at several different hospitals because amputation of my left thigh had become necessary as the result of blood poisoning.

In spite of all this, the 12th of June, the day I got wounded in 1942, has remained a most special day to me. Every year I celebrate it with my family, regarding it as my “genuine” birthday. Not one companion from my squadron survived. So I was spared their fate, unlike my two older brothers, one of whom died in Russian captivity, the other in the battles for Berlin at the end of April 1945.

All of this happened several decades ago. I have become fairly used to living with this physical handicap. You can tell outwardly because I keep going in for all kinds of sports. I should like to conclude by telling a pleasant episode which happened when I had taken up golf after having retired from work. On the golf course here in Bonn, I once walked with a gentleman from Scotland. It turned out in our conversation that he and I had both been in Northern Africa in WWII, and that he clearly remembered our Stukas (dive-bombers) on the 12th of June 1942. We concluded that most probably he had been the one who had shot my plane. So we had a drink together and have remained good friends since.

[Editor’s note: Hagedorn was a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe, and we understand he was awarded both 1st and 2nd Class Iron Crosses.]

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Filed under In Uniform, Western Front

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