CBS Profiles a Teen Who Collected Notes Made By Her Grandfather While He Was A POW During World War II
World War II must have seemed like ancient history to Caitlin Bitsco, a suburban teenager, before she discovered her link to it through two generations and a drawer full of secrets, CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.
"There's a lot of papers here. I don't know how he carried them around and how he kept all of them," Caitlin says.
She’s referring to papers from cigarette packs. The packs were dropped in Red Cross packages over a POW camp in Germany, where one of the prisoners turned them inside out, flattened them and used them to keep a secret diary. That prisoner was Edward Bitsco, Caitlin's grandfather.
"They're 60 years old and still legible," she says.
Bitsco's bomber was shot down over Vienna, Austria, in 1944, and he started writing, describing everything. Bitsco wrote on cigarette packs for more than a year. He kept writing as he was forced to keep marching away from the advancing Allies.
"My feet were so raw I thought I'd never make another kilo," one letter says.
The diary ended when the war ended, as Edward Bitsco waited to be liberated as he cowered under artillery fire. In one letter, he recalls, "we'd listen and watch the barns shake all the time."
Bitsco wrote down everything, but he rarely talked about his war years. He kept the diaries hidden from his wife, Elsie. The family knew about the diaries, but only Caitlin's father had read them. Elsie Bitsco never did, even though she knew her husband was still haunted.
"Sometimes he would sleep and then wake up and be hollering different things," Elsie says.
Edward Bitsco died before Caitlin was born, and she only learned about the diaries from her father when she started work on a family history project for school. Her grandmother parted with the diaries reluctantly, and Caitlin started reading.
"It's unreal in a way," Caitlin says. "I feel nosy going through this stuff."
Caitlin's classmates also read the diaries — but to this day, her grandmother has not, and she's not sure she wants to.
"Let's say, you keep your good memories," Elsie says.
Her husband's memories belong to history now. But it's OK by Elsie Bitsco if everyone reads the memoirs. Everyone but her.
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