POW's reunite, a flag returns home, and a double-amputee Marine helps stranded motorists
Kind of a grab-bag of stuff today, but there's a lot of interesting stories out there. Sometimes it happens like this, nothing great to write about for days, and then a slew of stories.
First up, the story of two POW's reuniting 70 years after being liberated, from Stars and Stripes:
What are the chances?
Both men served on bombers during World War II and flew dangerous missions from airfields in Italy. Both had planes shot out from under them during bomb runs. And both were taken prisoner by the Germans and held in the same POW camp - Stalag Luft 1.
Now, nearly 70 years after they were liberated by the Russians, the two veterans will be united at 4 p.m. next Tuesday at the Millville Army Airfield Museum at Millville (N.J.) Airport, where they'll also recount their experiences for visitors at 6 p.m.
Bill Hogan, 93, a museum tour guide who lives in Millville, and Dan Theokas, 90, of Vineland, N.J., briefly met each other during a chance encounter at the museum in August.
"He was captured like I was, and we had the same experience and were in the same stalag," said Hogan, who was leading a tour group at the time of the meeting. "The stalag is a big place, so I never met him.
"But it's nice to meet someone like that now," he said. "It's a big surprise . . . strange."
Theokas was equally amazed, after seven decades, to meet a fellow bomber crew member who had survived the same perils.
"He [Hogan] told me he was there, and now I'm anxious to get more of the story," Theokas said. "I want to learn more."
Sort of an interesting bit of trivia, the actor Donald Pleasance from Halloween and The Great Escape was also in Stalag Luft 1. When I was a young kid I worked for a man who was a prisoner there, and was fascinated by POW stories. And obviously growing up in the 1970's, Hogans Heroes was one of my favorite TV shows. A young lady in our office this morning said she'd never even seen it, which is a sign I guess that I am officially getting old.
Another great story from Stars and Stripes today is of a WWII vet returning a RIsing Sun flag to Japan:
A Rising Sun flag — taken from a dead Japanese soldier on Tinian island in 1944 — sat in a box at Kenneth Udstad’s home for 68 years.
On Friday, the Marine Corps veteran from Aurora, Ill., completed a pilgrimage to return it to Japan, along with several other objects taken from Pacific battlefields.
The still-sprightly 92-year-old, who served with the 4th Marine Division during World War II, said he decided to give back the red and white banner after hearing about another veteran who returned a war trophy.
“I thought it was a real nifty idea,” Udstad said. “I knew it would do the family (of the flag’s original owner) a world of good compared to what it was doing for me.”
Helped by members of his Mormon church, Udstad discovered that Japanese characters on the flag referred to the village of Tago in Shizuoka Prefecture. Officials there are still searching for the family of the fallen soldier, but were eager to receive the flag on their behalf.
And lastly there is this heart-warming story out of south west Ohio, via the Military Times:
A Marine veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan is again being called a hero — this time for helping stuck motorists out during a snowstorm.
Larry Draughn, 26, used his pickup truck to pull out three vehicles that ran off the road and into ditches during Sunday’s ice and snow in southwest Ohio, the Dayton Daily News reported. He said he saw the slide-offs from his backyard, where his son was sledding.
“I didn’t want to see anybody stranded on the side of that road; it wasn’t safe,” he said. “It was a sheet of ice, and people kept going into ditches behind my house. I wouldn’t call it heroic.”
But 77-year-old Wendell Ledbetter and his wife, Mildred, disagree. He said other vehicles were sliding past them when Draughn arrived to help, joking that he wasn’t worried about getting into the soggy ditch to hook up to their car.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ve got metal knees. They don’t get wet,’” Ledbetter recounted.