A POW is a military combatant who is held in continuing custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict. During WWII, 124,079 of America's finest were held in POW camps. I met a few of those men today...
Charles "Rut" Murray
"During my interrogation, I was hung up-side-down until my nose bled, because I was from Headquarters Company and they thought I should have more information."
"As part of captured groups, we were transported by rail, truck and walked across France, Germany and halfway across Poland to a final destination of Oflag 64. This was our place of confinement for the next 7 months."
"My tank got too far ahead of the infantry. When the infantry pulled back, my tank was hit by German artillery fire. The assistant driver shouted that the driver had been hurt. The tank started blowing up as the ammunition was exploding. I climbed out and stood there for a second or two and then jumped off the rear end. I ran about twenty wards and fell into the snow. I lay face down in the snow for a long time. The Germans were all around in foxholes and dressed in white capes. I thought if I could lay there long enough, the infantry might move up. I lay face down in the snow for several hours pretending to be dead. I never saw my crew again. I'm sure if they were alive I would have seen them again. Later, I learned that three of them had died. While in the POW camp, I met a soldier in the hospital there who had seen my tank driver. He said that his leg had been blown off and that he had three holes in his back."
"After a 75 kilometer march we were jammed into box cars, approximately 50 men to a car, the infamously "40 and Eight box cars", for an unpleasant ride to a camp in Nurnburg, Germany."
"My daily activities throughout my confinement were making friends with the British, Dutch and French prisoners. Food was the topic on most of our minds all day long."
"We had no idea what was happening, but it was real good. When we went across the river, we were free. This was the 26th of April, 1945 at Bitterfield, Germany. I was in the Army just about four years. There was a lot of stuff happened in four years. Some was good. Some was bad."
"We only had two guards and we were told if any of us escaped the rest would be shot for allowing them to escape."
"This might seem to be a long story, but if I tried to tell all of the pain and suffering from the extreme cold, starvation, sickness, beatings, interrogations, exhaustion and mental torture, it would take a volume to write of what I've worked hard to bury in my mind."
"At my liberation, I was immediately placed on a stretcher because of severe frostbite, fatigue and malnutrition. I was moved by ambulance, plane and whatever other means possible to get me to the nearest field hospital."
"It was and still is quite an honor to serve the best country in the world. God bless America."
I'd like to thank the Charleston VA Hospital for the invitation to take their portraits. It's such an honor. Many people idolize Hollywood movie stars or pop singers, well men like these are mine - no contest. I'd also like to thank Jim Eidson for the lovely book, Heroes...Survivors: A Book About South Carolinian Ex-Prisoner of War Experiences. All of the quotes above were provided from his interviews.
These projects would not be possible without the willingness of the veterans, support of the various VA staff and my CCforP staff. One of my current interns helped with the coordination and set up of the portraits, but I think he learned a bigger lesson today then anything I could have taught him.