BALLSTON SPA – “We thought this was it,” said former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Frank Darling, referring to an incident during the last weeks of World War II, when he was a prisoner of war in Germany.
Darling had been held in a camp near the Czech border, which was threatened by the advance of the Soviet army. The German guards evacuated the camp, marching the prisoners westward on a journey that went on for several weeks.
They stopped at what appeared to be training facility, and when the prisoners were told to remove their clothes, they thought they might be killed, Darling told The Ballston Journal this week. Instead, they were able to use showers and wash their clothes — the only chance they had to wash during that weeks-long journey. Eventually, in April 1945, the German guards left them to be liberated by advancing American troops.
Darling has lived since 1970 in a one-story house on Hyde Boulevard. His longtime wife Jeanette, whom he married after the war and who was a guidance counselor in the Niskayuna School District, is deceased, and they had no children. But friends will gather on Dec. 1 to celebrate his 100th birthday the next day. Mayor John Romano said he plans to present him with a key to the village on that occasion, which Darling’s neighbor Dr. Steven Esposito has helped organize. Romano will also proclaim Dec. 2 as Frank Darling Day.
Darling grew up in Warrensburg, and moved to his aunt’s house Ballston Spa to attend the last three years of high school. He worked as a forester and construction worker in his youth, and was drafted into the Army in 1942. After the war, he used GI Bill benefits to get schooling as a draftsman, and worked in Albany for the bridge bureau in the state Department of Transportation.
During the war, Darling served in the 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, which was part of the 7th Armored Division, and he was often in combat. He was part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in August 1944, when Darling and the rest of the division crossed the English Channel and went on to help liberate much of France. The division was then transferred to the U.S. Ninth Army, and served in the Netherlands.
In December 1944, the 7th Armored Division was sent to St. Vith, Belgium, to defend against the German offensive in the Ardennes, in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
On the night of Dec. 21-22, the Germans broke through, and Darling found himself in command of half a dozen men cut off in the confusion. Their position was betrayed by a civilian woman, apparently an ethnic German, who set off flares to alert the enemy.
During the interview, Darling said “I’m very lucky,” often attributing to luck both his survival during the war and other aspects of his life, including the friends who now help him get by.
Darling participated in 2015 in the New York State Military Museum Oral History Program, and his interview can be viewed online.
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