Today is POW Recognition Day / Museum of Islamic Art. Former POW Jim Vale shares his story so we can remember and honor those who were POWs and those still missing in action (POW / MIA).
The United States’ second war of words begins
Val was a freshman pre-veterinary student at Manchester College when the United States’ Second War of Words began on December 7, 1941.
“On that very day I came home to enlist in the Army, I was only 17, so I needed my father’s autograph. Val said. Val kept his promise to his father and finished his freshman year of college, and in the summer of 1942 he traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana, He joined the Army Air Force as a cadet pilot.
By November 1943, he had successfully earned his pilot’s silver wings as a fighter pilot. “After completing the transitional flight training, our readiness to fight was announced and we waited for our orders from abroad,” he said.
I had to come to the rescue in the twenty-first mission
Fall is assigned to the 9th Air Force, 366th Fighter Group at the 391st Fighter Squadron of Thruxton, England. On June 10, 1944, he was flying his twenty-first mission when his plane was hit on the left wing resulting in a fire.
“I had to bail out of the plane,” he recalls. “From the air I could see the English Channel and I was hoping to land on friendly land. When I hit the ground, my left leg bone was severed directly above my ankle.”
Fall was soon received by German rifles and he would spend 10 and a half months as a German prisoner of war.
For two weeks, he was moved from one German group to another until he reached the Dulag Luft, the first stop for most of the Army Air Force personnel captured by the Germans.
“The first night in solitary confinement was long,” he said. I was cold and my leg hurt. I was worried about my family’s reaction when they found out I was missing.”
Stalag Luft 3 in Poland
After seven days of solitary confinement, Val was sent to Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan, Poland, a German POW camp specially selected because the soil made it difficult for POWs to escape. The camp was a working family. They collected their own food, cooked it as a family, and the older prisoners of war counseled the new ones.
“A month after my leg was broken, I finally got treatment. The ‘doctor’ was a sophomore in medical school a POW without medical equipment. He suggested we throw out my leg and pray for recovery.”
By mid-January 1945, the Soviets were advancing on the Eastern Front. To prevent them from liberating prisoners of war, the Germans began a camp march across Germany.
“There was six inches of snow, blizzards, and temperatures around minus 18 degrees. We traveled for 8 days and 65 miles from Sagan, Poland, to Schpremberg, Germany. We were all exhausted. You felt like you couldn’t go on but you knew you were going to die if You didn’t do that.”
Moosburg VII-A… lost 100 lbs
Val and the other men arrived at Moosburg VII-A. Unlike Stalag Luft 3, Moosburg had no command and was very disorganized; Food was also very limited and uncertain. Val lost 100 pounds, half of his body weight, in just 10 months.
“The Germans could not provide us with food and water,” he said. “There were no bathing facilities, no sick calls, no laundry, no cooking facilities, and the camp was filthy and insects infested.”
April 29, 1945. The man’s mental state was rapidly deteriorating, but rumors aroused excitement. Rumors that American forces were close by.
Val and other POWs watched anxiously as American P-47s and P-51s attack nearby targets. Soon after the battle, an American tank entered through barbed wire, freeing more than 100,000 prisoners of war.
“We got to New York City, and in a few days, I was headed to Indiana on a ninety-day recuperation vacation. I kind of felt like I earned it.”
While on vacation, Jim married his high school sweetheart, Ethel May Swank, on June 28, 1945. Jim (aged 99) and Ethel (97) have been married for 77 years.
“On September 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered. It changed my life. They no longer need me as a combat pilot. My military career is over.”
Read Another important story About Captured Veterans/Department of the Interior: Veterans Memorial Tables symbolize the more than 80,000 US veterans listed as missing or captured…and those awaiting their return.