HUDSON — For six years, the mobile home sat empty on 5 acres, a buffer between Richard White and a deteriorating neighborhood.
Veryl and Norma Orcutt had lived there in the winters since 1990, escaping the Wisconsin snow. But then old age and Veryl's illness put an end to the lifestyle. That and the drugs.
"We just couldn't stand all the shady characters who started coming around,'' Norma said. "It soured us on Florida.''
Veryl, a master with hand tools, sealed the trailer. They left furniture, dishes, linens, towels and other household necessities just in case they changed their minds, but Veryl's health declined and he died in March 2010 in Potosi, Wis., across the Mississippi River from his native Dubuque, Iowa.
Norma sold the mobile home to Richard White, the neighbor who had always enjoyed their winter visits, who had baked cakes for them and helped with heavy lifting. White, a retired county parks ranger, kept his own 10 acres pristine but worried about what might move in next door. "I didn't need the trailer,'' he said. "I wanted to protect my peace.''
White didn't even bother to examine the contents of the home until a few weeks ago when he agreed to rent it to an old friend's son. He marveled how neat and clean it had remained, how Veryl had kept all his tools and hardware so organized. As he poked around and opened dresser drawers, he noticed a sheet of paper, folded in half. He gently lifted it and saw a headline in capital letters: PRISON CAMPS. White had found a copy of a 1945 International Red Cross map showing where Nazis kept prisoners of war.
White, a history buff and Navy veteran, knew Orcutt had been a POW in World War II but these details excited him. The map included handwritten notations and numbers and arrows identifying where he had been incarcerated, starting with Stalag XIIA, a processing station at Limburg.
"I was in solitary confinement here 7 days,'' Orcutt wrote with an arrow and star pointing to Wetzlar, a stopover on the way to Stalag IVB at Muhlburg. Next came Stalag III C at Alt Drewitz, 50 miles from Berlin, where historians estimate 12,000 Soviet prisoners had been killed or starved to death.
Orcutt's map shows a dotted line from Alt Drewitz to Lodz, Poland, where he apparently boarded a boxcar to Warsaw and then Odessa. Completing a giant circle, he made it to Stalag VIIA near Moosburg, Germany, where he and 80,000 other prisoners were liberated on April 29, 1945.
White felt like he had stumbled on something special, that perhaps a veterans organization might like a copy. Norma Orcutt said that would be fine.
"Veryl would like that,'' she said last week from her home in Cassville, Wis. "He didn't talk a lot about the war. He just moved on, but he never forgot.''
Norma and Veryl were married 60 years. He started working for his father's automobile junk yard at 16 in Dubuque and ran it for many years after the war.
In 2003, White read about a group bringing a B-17 Flying Fortress to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. He packed up the Orcutts and drove them an hour south. He watched as Veryl climbed aboard the vintage bomber, working his way into the turret where his thoughts returned to missions over Nazi territory.
"He was like a little kid,'' recalled White, now 70. "When he went into that bubble, you could see him reliving those days. He was in a trance.''
Orcutt sniffed the canvas, ran his hands across the olive drab green steel. The last time he had been in a B-17, he was but 23, an Army Air Corps staff sergeant assigned to the 463rd Bomb Group. On Jan. 15, 1945, he and nine other men left a base in Italy, climbed to 29,000 feet and dropped their load on railroad tracks and refineries near Vienna. Before they could return home, the plane ran out of gas. The crew parachuted and the plane crashed near Sistak, Yugoslavia. German SS troops rounded up the Americans and sent them to prison camps.
On the other side of the world, Veryl's brother Lyle, 10 years older, labored as a prisoner of war in Japan. A Navy machinist's mate, Lyle had been captured after the fall of Corregidor. After liberation in 1945, he remained in the Navy, achieved the rank of lieutenant and served in the Korean War. He died in 1988 in San Diego at age 78.
Starting in the 1960s, Veryl and Norma began regular visits to Florida, where they especially enjoyed fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Veryl kept in touch with the co-pilot of the downed B-17, Paul Aldhizer, who retired from the Air Force as a major with 21 years of service. Aldhizer moved to St. Pete Beach in 1964 and became active in several organizations, including as commander of the Gulf Coast Chapter Ex-POWs. He also served on the City Commission and died in 2007 at age 85.
"Veryl always admired him,'' Norma said, "especially his courage when the plane was going down and all the men had to parachute.
"It's so good to talk about them again. Veryl was a great guy, a good-hearted man. He served his country.''