Everyday Prisoners of War

They are hidden amongst us… a neighbor, a man you greet at church every Sunday, the older guys lunching at the table nearby. You can’t tell just by looking at them, but once they were prisoners of war. They are survivors, and they have some stories to tell. If you pry hard enough, if the timing is right, they might tell you how they were captured when their plane was shot down, how they were fed green soup or boiled rutabagas, how much weight they lost, how they were freed by the British, or how they escaped and wandered the enemy countryside. These guys are proud of their service, of their country, but mostly they remember how lucky they were, and how many of their friends were not, and quietly go about their everyday lives. Sometimes, that’s not so easy.

On the other hand, there is the elderly barber who was once assigned guard duty over some big name war prisoners: Rudolph Hess (Hitler’s deputy), Albert Speer (charged with gathering concentration camp victims to work in German war factories), Hermann Goerring (Commander of the German Air Force). The defendants seemed like ordinary people (except for oddball Rudy Hess) because of the small talk between them and their guards. Mr. Horn, the barber, didn’t see anything special about the job he didn’t want and the casual conversations with infamous war criminals on trial. He’s another quiet one. You gotta ask first.

POW Black Bread

50% bruised, rotted rye
20% sliced sugar beets
20% sawdust
10% minced leaves and straw

Sugar from beets feed the rotting grain which provide the gases allowing the bread to rise.

American Ex-Prisoners of War, with chapters across the country, is an organization whose mission is to support ex-prisoners, civilian internees, and their families through friendship and understanding based on common experience.

This post is based on “His Story is History,” Oct 27, and “Barber’s Brush With History,” Oct 24, 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and “A Gathering of American Ex-POW’s,” Nov 7-13, 2008, Webster-Kirkwood Times


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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