Dumas(L) and compatriots on the run
is my story of when and how I was taken "Prisoner of War".
first writing was about when I went in the service. I was in different camps and
last was on July 10, 1943. Our division invades the Island of Sicily, at 4:25
a.m. on July 11. We captured the Comiso Airport on July 31. We were then pulled
out of the line in northern Sicily, called Trabia, after twenty-two days of
battle. We had a good rest!
10, we made a landing at Salerno, Italy. October 21, our division comes off the
line after forty continuous days of combat. Now comes the invasion of Anzio on
January 22, 1944. The entire 45th Division was committed by January 29. We held
our ground and on, February 16 through 19, the Germans launched a furious
four-day assault to split beachhead forces along Anzio-Albano Road with 'Factory
Area" as focal point. (We were at the "Factory Area".) When they
attacked, the Germans hit with seven crack divisions, along with Luftwuffe
support, plus dozens of heavy tanks. Their attack was to liquidate the beachhead
by February 18.
this date, my regiment (of about three hundred Americans) became prisoners of
the Germans. The actual figures after seven days of the German attack are as
follows: our regiment the 179th lost 55% of its men and officers --- 367
wounded; 728 missing or captured; 670 men evacuated as exhaustion or psychiatric
The German tanks
infantry pushed up to the Mussolini Canal, in which our company was dug in and
captured us. Before they got to us, we smashed our rifles and threw our
ammunition in the canal.
bad part of being taken prisoner is that the Germans moved us from our lines
over to their lines which means after we are deep into their lines, we are
constantly being shelled by our own artillery. (They do not know it though.) The
Germans walked us about eight miles into a small Italian town and put us in a
home and into a cellar like deep underground. I was wondering why way
underground! I soon knew why - that night our bomber dropped shells on the whole
town. When they took us out, the entire town, buildings, etc. were leveled. This
day, they walked us in the direction of Rome. We were four days walking. At this
time, whenever there were dead Germans by the side of the roadway, our people
killed during the night raids, they made us dig graves to bury the dead. It was
terrible, the work and the odors. We worked and walked with only a bit of bread
(German) and water, once in awhile.
the fourth day we arrived at what they called a transit Prison Camp. The camp
was called "Cinecitta", an old Italian place where the Italians
made movies. There was barbed wire all around and a huge gate, and guards. We
were supposed to stay here for only two weeks, and they would transport us to
the "Black Forest" in Germany. At about 7:00 - 8:00 in the evening,
they would have a prisoner count. We lined up in a column of 5's. The guard
would say "5", and we would walk into the prison camp building. At the
door, a guard would hand one of the five of us a small loaf of German black
bread. When we got into the building, one person would cut the loaf in five
slices. This was our supper. In the morning, we were let out in the fenced-in
area. They would then give us a cup full of German green tea. (They had no tin
cups.) We would take the liner out of our steel helmets, and they would pour the
tea in the helmet (some breakfast!). At high noon, they had a huge pot they
would cook greens, or whatever they had. One day, we had a horse cooking in it.
At first, there were about 500 in the camp. As the days went by, they brought in
more prisoners --- Englishmen, Scotsmen, Indians, Americans, etc. They always
cooked just in the one pot; so if you were at the end of the line, you generally
ended up with water. I have just given you the menu for the day (everyday).
toilet facilities in the camp. We had what they called a slip trench dug and
everyone used it. Only two cold water faucets on the campgrounds. So, you could
only wet your face and hands and wash out your steel helmet. This went on the
same day after day - until the tenth day - something happened... This was the
28th of February 1944.
five of us were playing cards in the prison camp when an air raid sounded. All
the guards were looking up at the sky and watching our Air Force bombing near
the prison camp. One of the men who was in the yard came in while we were
playing cards and said two men ripped the fence and escaped. He asked if anyone
else wanted to try and get out. I said, “I'll go." and an Englishmen
said, "I'll go.” but no one else would try. So, we went out in the yard.
The fence was ripped open, a large group stood around to block the guards view
and the Englishman and I went through. Little did we know, we were still inside
the prison camp. There was a high stonewall with barbwire and broken glass on
top of the wall. We scouted around and found a small room with fake scenery in
it. I suppose as a part of the movie industry. We hid in this room until dark;
with luck it started to rain and thunder and lightning. There were guards in
little buildings on the grounds but with the noise and rain, we ran across the
yard and got to the top of the wall and over we went ..... running through
fields of hay and Italian gardens, where we yanked up a few carrots (dirt and
all) and ate them on the run. After about two hours, we came upon a farmhouse.
We took a chance and rapped on the door. An Italian lady let us in. We said to
her, "Americana soldati" (American soldier) and "Engleese soldati"
(English soldier). The woman and her husband were the only ones in the house.
They had us sit by the fireplace and dry off and gave us some bread and rigotta,
which she warmed up. The old man knew a few words in English. He said, "You
can stay until daylight, but then you have to leave. If you are caught by the
Germans, we are guilty of hiding you." At daybreak, the Englishman and I
left and found a bombed-out house where we stayed for three-four days. In the
meantime, I traded by combat jacket to a sheepherder for his long black coat. We
were still in uniform, so the long coat really covered me up. The Englishmen
wanted to try and get back to our lines. I did not believe we should try because
there were too many German soldiers around. So, the stubborn Englishman left
alone one night. He got challenged by a German outpost, did not know the pass
work, and got caught. It was the last I saw of him. I did hear he was shot as a
spy. In the following days, I heard another soldier - an Indian was in the small
town of Rustica, living there for quite some time and blended into the community
as one of their own. I headed for the town of Rustica and found him. He was
staying with an Italian family and learned a lot of the language. The family
gave me a silk shirt and a pair of shoes, so I got rid of the rest of my
uniform. I held on to my "Dog Tags" and put them in my shoe - to show
I was an American GI.
Indian and I would go to a neighbor each morning with a bucket to get some
Rigotta. The Italian would also cook fresh eggs. There were a lot of Germans
manning anti-aircraft guns in the area. One morning, one of the soldiers asked
the Indian, "Why doesn't your friend with you ever talk?" The Indian
responded, "He was in the Italian Army and a bomb fell near him, and he
became deaf and dumb." The German said, "That's too bad." So this
is what I did. When you don't know the language, act deaf and dumb. This is the
way I got by…
living in this little village for about a month, more and more German soldiers
arrived in and around the village. I started to get a bit scared that I would
get caught. Maybe one of the people would squeal on me. I asked the Indian if he
could get me to Rome. He said yes. We had gotten word that the guards at the
Vatican and the Italian underground were finding safe places in Rome for escaped
soldier. So, in two days we left for Rome. (At this time, the Italian Army had
surrendered to the allies. The Italians were not in the war anymore. All the
Italian youth who were in the Army were home.)
to Rome was not a picnic! We had to go through a number of German roadblocks.
They did not bother us as hundreds of people went into Rome each day to bring
their produce to the open market. Some walked the eighteen miles; some took
buses, drove horse and cart in, or a train. We walked to the train station and
got on the train. The train was always packed with people bringing in pigs,
hens, vegetables, etc, for the market. When the train stopped in Rome we took a
bus to Vatican City. We went up and the Indian talked to one of the guards. The
guard told us there were no openings today where families could hide escaped
POW, and for me to come back in three days. At the left of the gates, there is a
small street stand on the right side of the street. On the other side of the
street, there is a person standing reading a newspaper. When the clock strikes
12 o'clock, he will take the newspaper down from his face, fold it up, and put
it in his right side pocket of his topcoat. He will then start walking across
the piazza - you walk beside him and say, "I'm an American soldier,
escaped.” Do not say anymore and
follow him. Now, you both go back to the country and remember, in three days, be
here and do just as I said."
days later, I went back to Rome -and it happened just as I wrote. (By the way,
the man I met with the newspaper was a priest. He worked with the underground.)
The priest went ahead and I followed. We got on one bus (he paid the tokens),
rode for a while, then transferred to another bus which was loaded as the
population, of Rome was huge. Finally, after about one hour of busing, we got
off and walked two blocks and came to a big building, surrounded by a high wall,
with a huge iron gate with a bell on the side. The priest rang the doorbell and
soon a nun came to the gate and let us in. We walked in a side entrance and
opened a door that led to a small room. The small table for two was set with a
loaf of bread and a bottle of Red Wine. The priest closed the door and put out
his hand and said, "You did fine, and we got here OK."
priest (I did not get his name) said tomorrow you will be introduced to a
Scotsman who is here, and you will be together until Rome falls to the Allies.
The Scotsman's name was Bill Robb, from Aberdeen, Scotland. He was taken
prisoner in Tobruk, in the desert by the Germans. They piled him in a large
group of prisoners on a train to send them to Germany. He tore the bars off the
boxcars and jumped off the train in Italy. He broke his left leg in the jump and
the Italians nursed him back to health. He was behind the lines a. long time and
learned the Italian language fluently. So, we met in a convent and would stay
together until the war in Italy was over.
Bill and I were to stay in the nuns convent until the priests and underground
found a safe place for us in Rome. Two weeks later, they found a place in Rome
on Via Vetelonia, where a woman was
to hide us in her apartment on the fifth floor. Her name was Signora Capisoni.
She was about forty years old and alone. Her husband was M.I.A. from the
war; he was an Officer of the Italian Army. Mrs. Capisoni taught me Italian, how
to play cards, and fed us. The only time we could go out in the streets was to
get water from a well three blocks away - or to buy eggs on the street. (At this
time, eggs were $12.00 a dozen.) Cigarettes were very hard to come by (generally
through Black Market). This woman had to be paid somehow, especially, since she
had to buy food and food costs money.
priest had told US to get money or Civilian clothes we would have to go to the
"Swiss Legation", which was in Rome. Being Swiss and a neutral
country, they would help anyone - not only P.O.W.,s. We found the Swiss Legation
and the gentlemen there asked what we wanted. Bill said we needed Italian Liras
(money) some toilet articles, socks, shirt, and underwear. All we had to do was
sign our name, rank and Army serial number. When we got the money, we gave the
lady where we were staying some and she bought the food. I believe about four
times we received money from Switzerland.
a couple of weeks, two more escaped P.O.W.'s were brought in our house. One
soldier from South Africa - his first name was Louie; I do not remember his last
name. Another young American from Pennsylvania - his name was Bob Schultz. Now,
there are four of us plus the woman. Bill and I got bored staying in the house
all the time, so finally we told Mrs. Capisoni we were going out and look about
the city of Rome. She said you will be caught in a "Round Up". As I
said before, the Italians were out of the war, and there were a lot of young
ex-soldiers roaming around Rome.
I will explain the "Round Ups". The Germans would block off a square
of streets with machine guns and some time tanks and gather up all the youths in
this area and put them into trucks and drive them to the German front lines and
make them dig trenches and bury their dead for three days. They would then drive
them back to Rome and let them go. Bob Schultz was one who was caught in one of
these round ups.
Robb knew some elderly families in a small town outside Rome. These people were
hard working farmers. They grew all kinds of fruits and vegetables. So, Bill and
I would leave Rome in the morning, walk and take a bus to this town of
Torsobianzia. They would give us vegetables, chicken, kerchofie, etc. to bring
back to our apartment in Rome. This helped the woman a lot, because we would not
have to pay for it. We did this on an average of once a week.
also got to know Rome pretty well. We knew what trolleys or bus to take. We went
into the wine shops and ordered bottles of vino and sat and listened to the old
Italian men talking about the American and British bombing their homes and land.
One day, we went to the library and got a book in English and then returned them
in ten days. We went to a carnival in Rome one weekend and watched these
six-foot German soldiers riding the "Merry Go Round" and eating ice
were stopped by two Germans one day. Their truck broke down and one asked in
Italian if we would know how to start it. Bill took a look at it and told them
they were out of gas. They laughed and laughed and thanked us. These are some of
the things that happened to us in Rome.
time, we were on a trolley going to the country and the trolley all of a sudden
stopped. German S.S. troops and Italian "Black Shirts" (in Italian
comechi nero) climbed aboard. In Italian, One of the comechi nero said,
"Everyone show their identification cards as we approach you.” (Everyone
had to have an identification card in Rome -- where you lived, job you had or
student, age, and a photo of you.) Bill had a false one made up by a priest who
did this. (I had my photo taken but did not have my card yet, because the priest
was caught and shot - so I never got one.) I said to Bill, "You have a
card. There is no sense both of us getting arrested. Get away from me.” There
were steel bars on the windows of the trolley and I could not escape that way.
Both exist were covered. I just could not get off. I thought I was doomed!
stuck right by me though. The trolley was packed with people - sitting, standing
Ike pickles in a jar. They started checking, got discouraged, and said,
"Everyone hold up your card and photo over your heads." I took my
wallet out and just stuck it up eye level. They looked and looked and said,
"It is well, go on.” Thank the Lord, I was saved! (You realize, I am an
American soldier in civilian clothes, behind enemy lines - which means only one
thing --- shot as a spy and no one can do anything about it. )
lived on the fifth floor and on the bottom floor was a wine shop. Italians drink
a lot of wine, like we drink water. One night things went bad in the street and
someone shot a German Soldier as he went by on a motorcycle and killed him. The
German High Command said if this ever happens again, they would line up
twenty-five civilians and shoot them. This incident got us scared. Bill and I
decided to leave Via Veteloni and move out to the countryside to a small town
called Torso-Sianza. We stayed in Bill's friend’s farmhouse - "Old Piedro",
his wife, one 14-year-old boy, and one little girl about 5 years old.
All beautiful Italian people, so happy to hide us on their property. We
ate in the farmhouse, but slept in a smaller building away from the house. We
slept on hay on the floor with a few blankets.
"Old Piedro" went to Rome for provisions, he would load a small
two-wheel cart with hay, and Bill and I would get under the hay to hide, as we
had to go through a German roadblock. A little old donkey pulled the cart. When
we went through the roadblock, the only passenger was "Old Piedro".
They would just ask him where he was going, and he had to be back through the
roadblock before dark, as no civilian was allowed out after it got dark.
day we went in to Rome, as I had to get a shave and haircut. Bill is still doing
all the talking in Italian, as he was excellent at it. But this day, he said,
"You go in the barber shop and say to the barber... ‘Son Jardno' (good
day) 'Capelli regulary' (regular hair cut). That's all you have got to
say." So, I tried it. I went in and said what Bill told me, but the barber
kept on talking. I could not answer him. So, finally I stared at him in the
mirror and gave him a big wink. He shut up immediately. The haircut and shave,
as I remember came to forty cents. I gave him $1.00 in Italian Liras, and he
thanked me three times. I guess he thought it was a great tip.
Rome fell to the Allies, Bill and I returned to this barbershop. I said to the
barber, "Do you remember me?" He said, "Oh, yes. But, I thought
you were a German. I see now you are American." The five barbers got out
the wine and cognac and had a party.
I said earlier, the Italians were out of the War, and a lot of the Italian youth
were like us - hiding from the Germans. Bill and I got together with six of the
young Italians and harassed them every chance we could. Years ago, the Italians
had prepared for the invasion of their country. These young men whom we were
with, dug a huge cave in the side of a hill about the size of a dining room.
They even planted berry bushes over the mouth of the cave, so no one else could
find it. We lived in this cave for weeks. There was water, wine, bread, etc. to
eat and drink.
night we came out, and there was a group of German soldiers in an open field
with a bonfire, playing music and singing "Lee, Lee, Martain" - a
favorite march tune. The six of us crept up and opened fire on them and killed
most of them. We also blew up some of their trucks. All of this was done in the
darkness of night. We never got caught. It was dangerous and we probably should
not have done this; but they were our enemies!
Germans did a lot of bad things to the Italian people. For example: they
would just come upon a farmer who had cows and help themselves to the cattle.
They would bring the cattle to Rome to a slaughterhouse. They would then sell
the beef to the Italian people. They also killed a few Catholic priests. Louie,
the escaped soldier from South Africa and Bob Schultz from Pennsylvania also
came out in the country and joined us for a month. It is now about the middle
week in May 1944. Now, we moved back to "Old Piedro" farm. Still
plenty of German soldiers all around. They were always coming to the farm and
asking for eggs or wine. Piedro would give them eggs but would always say he did
not have any wine. The Italians would dig holes in their farm and put the wine
in the ground. It was hidden from the soldiers, and it also stayed cool in the
the Italian farmers cut their hay, they would stack huge piles of it throughout
the fields. We were always looking for a place to hide - so at night, we would
hollow out the haystacks, pulling out the hay from the front and middle and
throwing it on the top of the stack. We would leave a small entrance, so we
could crawl in. It made a nice cool place to hide when there were Germans
around, and also a place to escape the hot sun in May and June.
used these haystacks for some time until one day some "Spitfire"
airplanes started strafing the haystacks. You see, we did not know the Germans
used to stack hay on top of the ammunition to hide it. One day, a plane was strafing
it and the haystack blew up. So, the planes knew they saw haystacks
and would strafe them, because they knew they had hid the ammo in them.
incident while we were in the country was …this Italian woman was spying on
us. (She was a Fascist.) She was working for the Germans and a neighbor told us
this. Bill, three young Italians, and I went to her house, which was poorly
built and burned it down. She had a bicycle built for two, so Bill and I took
that. We would ride all over Rome on it. In fact we rode one day to see the
Coliseum. (Years ago, they would put people in this area and turn the lions
loose to kill the people.)
and I are again going back to Rome and find another house to hide in. The
underground found one north of Rome. A young single girl lived with her father.
The father was a conductor on one of Rome's trolleys. The girl was going with a
German SS trooper just to get money out of him to buy food for us. They would be
in one room and four of us escaped prisoners in the next. So, we had to be real
quiet. We did not stay there very long, as it became to dangerous.
We went to another house in Rome, where the man and woman with two young daughters lived. (I cannot remember their last names.) The daughters' names were Guiseppina and Teresa, both very nice Italian girls. (In fact, I have pictures of them that I will enter in an album that I am putting together.)
The father said to
us one night, "You can stay here, but please do not get too friendly with
my daughters. If you want to meet girls, I work at a Rome theatre where there
are plenty of showgirls. If you want to come to the theatre tomorrow, I will
have a table on the sidewalk cafe for you. I will have two girls come out and
sit, talk, and have a bottle of wine on me." So, that is just what we did.
Don't get me wrong; these were just friendly girls who were wild about meeting
an American and Scotsman. It was lots of fun.
knew a very rich Italian man and wife. He ran a huge biscuit factory in Rome. On
two different Sundays, they invited us to dinner at their lovely home. He opened
up a closet door one day and said to help yourself to any suit of clothes we
would like. He said it was free. I picket out a gray pinstriped, single-breasted
suit. He also gave me a beautiful white silk shirt. Bill also picked out a navy
blue suit and a shirt of some kind. They had pictures of Primo Canera all over
their house. Primo was the World Champion Boxer at that time from Rome, Italy.
also wanted to give us money, but we refused. (I have a picture of the Biscuit
Factory owner's wife and child, which I will be putting my album. You can see
how rich they were by the clothes they are wearing in the photo.)
of Rome's newspapers were telling about the Americans bombing Mt. Cassino. There
was an Abbey at the top of Mt. Cassino - I do not know how many priests or monks
were there at the time of the bombing. There was also a large number of German
soldiers there with huge guns. Every time our soldiers tried to
run the Germans off the mountain, they would mow them down. It was
impossible to take the mountain by our infantry. So, we, the Americans and
British, had to go over and bomb the hell out of them with planes. Finally, the
fight for Mt. Cassino was won. The planes bombed and the infantry charged up and
took over. They leveled the Abbey to the bare ground - killing most of the
Germans. Now, our army had a good start to conquer Rome.
and I are now back to the country at "Old Piedros Farm". There are
about eight young Italians with us. We are living in underground tunnels and a
cave in the side of a hill. Near us is the small town of Torsobianza. We would
loaf around during the day and have guards out to watch for any Germans who
might come around our territory. At night, we slept in the cave. This went on
for a couple of weeks. Finally, one morning at 5:30, two of the young guards
came in the cave and hollered, 'The Americans are here - here in the town next
to us. There are dead German soldiers all over the place. Bill and I said,
"Oh - go away, there are no American troops here yet. Yes, they all said as
one of the guards showed a pack of Camel cigarettes. We all yelled, let's go and
meet them. We cam out of the cave and sure enough, the 88th Infantry was coming
talked to an American officer and told him who we were. I showed him my
"dog tags" and we followed them into the City of Rome. There were
German tanks burning in the streets and snipers shooting all over the place in
the city. In six hours, Rome was completely taken. It is now June 4, 1944, we
are free and so are the people of Rome.
were interrogated by American officers and told them our story. They turned us
over to a British outfit. I guess they were going to stay in Rome to keep things
under control. The British said we had to get out of the civilian clothes. So,
they gave us British uniform, shorts, knee socks, heavy shoes, shirt, and a
gave me the name of a captain who was in Naples and said I was to report to him
as soon as possible. I answered, "How do I get to Naples?" They gave
me a map and said, "Hitch hike"! We do not have any transportation for
you.” So, with my nice new British uniform on, I did just that. I hitch hiked
to Naples, Italy. (Naples was already in American control.)
found the address he gave me but took some time, as Naples is a large seaport
city. The captain I was to see ran a. P.O.W. camp with hundreds of German
prisoners. He asked me a lot of questions about what we did behind the lines and
what we saw. He told me to get out of the British uniform and he would supply me
with one of ours. He issued everything socks, shoes, complete uniform,
underwear, etc. He also let me shower and sleep. He told me I would be there
about a week before he could get me a plane to Algiers, Algeria, on July 21,
1944. Then from Algiers I would be put on a ship for Hampton Roads, Virginia.
We were ten days getting to Virginia. I stayed in Camp Pickett, Virginia for one
week, they flew three soldiers and me from the 101st Airborne to Washington,
D.C. They put us up in a beautiful hotel and gave us all money from the American
Red Cross. Each morning for two hours we had to talk and answer questions from
high officials at a building in Washington. After that, we were on our own to do
whatever we wanted - but each morning we had to go back to interrogation.
had a great time, drank a lot of beer, and ate in nice restaurants. I was given
a ten- day furlough from Washington D.C. to Malone, New York, where my family
lived and also my girlfriend, Vivian LaPage, who has been my wife now for 52
years. I spent ten wonderful days with friends and family. It is now about
August 1944. After my ten-day furlough, I have to report to Camp Pickett,
Virginia, for four months to train new men for overseas duty.
I was shipped to Camp Craft, South Carolina, for two months - training men in
the infantry for overseas. Next I was shipped to Camp-Gordon, Georgia, in March
1945. On April 1, I got a furlough to go home to marry my sweetheart on April 3.
We were married in my wife's hometown of Fort Covington, New York.
left for Camp Gordon, Georgia, after a honeymoon to go back in the Army. We went
by train to Augusta, Georgia, from Malone, New York. We found an apartment on
Green Street in Augusta. I was allowed to leave Camp Gordon each night to stay
with my wife in Augusta. We lived there until June 1945. My wife had to take a
train home, as she was about to have our first child - Bonnie. July through
October, I still trained men,-and one October 10, 1945, 1 was discharged as a
I am a civilian again, and we have a baby girl on February 15,1946. (She is now
51 years old at this writing.) I got a job in Malone in a clothing store called
"Stem Clothes", that opened in April 1947. Prior to this job, I worked
in a milk plant. We also have a son, Stephen, who is 39 years old, and a son,
David, who is 46 years old.
May 1, 1947, 1 received a letter from the Finance Off ice U.S. Army, St.
Louis, Mississippi. The letter states:
Mr. Dumas: This office has been advised by the Office of the Chief of Finance,
Washington, D.C., that on 8th March 1944, while a member of the U.S Armed Forces
in Italy, you received a payment of Emergency Relief, subject to payment at a
later date of 2, 000 Italian Lire ($108.12 American dollars - converted at the
rate of .05405) from the Swiss Legation in Rome, Italy, through Captain Leonardo
Trippi, Inspector of War Prisoner Camps, which -obligation has now been
transferred to the War Department for collection. While it is not the intention
of this office to disturb you with collection letters, this indebtedness not
withstanding your faithful service to your country during the time of War,
nevertheless represents a legitimate obligation due the United States and should
be repaid with the least practicable delay.
should be drawn in favor of the Treasurer of the United States and forwarded to
Very truly yours,
C.F. Hathaway, Jr.
Assistant Finance Officer
contacted the Honorable Clarence E. Kilburn, House of Representatives,
Washington DC). Mr. Kilburn was born and lived in Malone. He took care of the
whole matter headlines in the Washington Evening Star on Tuesday, May 20,
for 'DUNNING" local GI on Escape Cash. The War Department, a hasty review,
revealed the demand for repayment was a- "mistake" and it was
unfortunate and regretted.
I have the telegram
from Washington, D.C. which was sent to a lawyer Harold W, on May 19, 1947, it
Department admits mistake in Dumas Case and apologizes.
Clarence E Kilburn
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