Ex-POWs recall captivity of past wars

By Thomas Wilson

   JOHNSON CITY -- Ex-prisoners of war from across the state of Tennessee gathered at the Garden Plaza Hotel here on Friday for a state conference as the U.S military scrambled to locate seven American soldiers listed as POWs in Iraq.
   Ex-POWs gathered to remember and recall their experiences as prisoners in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. One ex-POW attending was Roy L. Jones, a World War II veteran from Manchester, Tenn., who is a member of the Alvin C. York Chapter of the former Prisoners of War in Middle Tennessee.
   "We were combat engineers," said Jones, who served with the U.S. Army's 44th Engineering Battalion. "I went to France three days after the (D-Day) invasion." Jones was a member of the Third Army's 44th Engineering Battalion captured by the German army in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.
   The prisoner of war issue caught the nation's attention during Operation Iraqi Freedom when members of the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Hood, Texas were ambushed by Iraqi troops on March 23. Nine soldiers were taken captive.
   One of those POWs, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va., was recovered and returned to U.S. control as the result of a successful rescue mission conducted by Army and Marine commandos. However, U.S. forces recovered eight bodies of soldiers who had been captured along with Lynch. Lynch worked as a supply clerk with the Army's 507th Maintenance Company.
   The seven Americans presently listed as POWs in Iraq include five members of Lynch's Army maintenance unit and the two pilots of an Apache helicopter that went down a day later.
   The seven known U.S. prisoners of war involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom are: U.S. Army Spec. Joseph Hudson, 24; U.S. Army Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23; Spec. Shoshana Johnson, 30; Spec. Edgar Hernandez, 21; and Sgt. James Riley, 31, all of the 507th Maintenance Company, Fort Bliss, Texas; and the two Apache pilots, Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams and Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr.
   While Jones said he "didn't approve" of the role of women in direct combat, he said times and attitudes had changed. "The women in there, I guess, they are doing a good job," said Jones. "Whether they're a man or a woman, they are soldiers doing their duty and that's protecting the United States."
   Like most POWs, Jones recounted the harrowing experiences of his five months in captivity to German forces. After being forced to march through the German winter for two days, he and other Allied prisoners were crammed into railroad cars and transported to prison camps. Prisoners stood in the moving rail cars for 12 to 14 hours.
   "They'd stop and let you out for a while and we'd get snow to take back in to drink," said Jones. "You were packed like cattle in there."
   After spending weeks in prison, Jones said German prison officers gave prisoners an option of simply being held captive or working. "They told us if we wanted to sign up to go work, the food and the treatment would be better," Jones said.
   "I had shrapnel in my hand and I got blood poisoning, so they sent me to a prison hospital in Frankfurt, and they did surgery to scrape all the poisoning out," said Jones. "They didn't have aspirin to give you much then." He was sent to another hospital in Germany until Allied forces liberated him and fellow prisoners at the hospital in April 1945.
   "I weighed 164 pounds when I was captured," said Jones. "I weighed 92 pounds when I got home. That's how much I had to eat."
   President Bush signed a proclamation declaring April 9 as the National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. The Department of Defense, Washington Headquarters Service, and the Department of State report the 1,948 Americans remained unaccounted for in Southeast Asia as of November 2001.
   Jones and his 44th Maintenance Battalion comrades functioned as the demolition and construction crew for whatever army outfit called on their services.
   "Our colonel said we weren't with no army, we were just a 'bastard crew,'" said Jones with laugh. "We were attached to the Third Army and they'd say 'go up here and blow this bridge,' and we went up ahead of the infantry and blew the bridge up and when they got ready to have them go across, we went back up and built the bridge for them.
   "When you were through with that whoever wanted us called us next."
   Battlefield conditions also have changed considerably since World War II as an alphabet soup of news organizations report from the front lines with military forces.
   "When I was in there, they didn't have no cameras or reporters or nothing else up there," said Jones. "If you was up there you had your gun to protect yourself."