Brooke library scene of remembrance for missing, prisoners

WELLSBURG – As guest speaker for a program marking National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day, Ed Jackfert of Wellsburg noted about 88,000 American servicemen have been declared missing in action, and each is someone’s son, brother, husband or father.

“They left behind all they held dear – their families and friends, their cherished dreams – to protect our way of life. For their families, the war has never ended. They have endured decades of lonely nights and aching emptiness. They have been held captive in a world of uncertainty, left to wonder what happened to their loved ones,” Jackfert said.

Jackfert was a fitting speaker for the program held Friday at the Brooke County Public Library. Aided by his wife, Henrietta, he created the first exhibit of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum housed there.

More importantly, he himself was a prisoner of war, one of thousands captured by the Japanese while defending the Philippine Islands during World War II.

Jackfert spent three years and four months in Japanese POW camps, where he was put to work for the Japanese war effort. His tasks included unloading drums filled with gasoline for enemy aircraft, working in a chemical plant that produced ammonium nitrate used in explosives and laboring for 24 hours unloading ships.

Jackfert said all the while he and other POWs suffered from disease and malnutrition. When he was rescued by Allied Forces, he weighed less than 100 pounds.

It’s difficult to think of Jackfert as lucky. But he often has commented on being fortunate to have survived the ordeal.

Of about 24,000 captured by the Japanese, 11,107 didn’t survive.

Jackfert said many POWs came to see their own survival as victory against the enemy.

‘Whether it was World War II, Vietnam, Korea or the Iraq War, victory for each of them was measured in survival and maintaining their faith and loyalty to our nation. When the reward for loyalty was continued starvation and death, their strong heart, great spirit and unyielding faith served as an inspiration to the rest of our nation,” he said.

In a video presentation during the program, the late Abie Abraham, a POW from Butler, Pa., recalled how he and thousands of other U.S. and Filipino troops were marched 80 miles in subtropical treat by their Japanese captors.

He said he watched as many were killed, with bayonets, rifles and clubs. Others fell from dehydration, starvation or disease.

Abraham secretly recorded their lives and deaths on paper he hid in a tin can.

“I figured somebody has to do it. If I didn’t do it, how is the world going to know what really happened?” Abraham said.

Following the war, Abraham was recruited by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to locate his fallen comrades so their remains could be returned to the U.S.

Abraham, a contributor to the museum, was represented by his widow, Christine, at the program.

Mary Kay Wallace, the library’s director, noted, like Abraham, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum serves to educate people about such atrocities, which she said were omitted from history textbooks for many years.

As director of the Butler County Traveling Library, Wallace had met Abraham so she knew of the Bataan Death March when Jackfert approached her about gathering photos, maps and recollections for an exhibit at the Brooke County Library.

George Wallace, her husband, noted the exhibit grew into a section of the library as requests for artifacts through the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor POW group’s newsletter, edited by Joseph Vater and himself, drew “boxes of memorabilia.”

On Friday the Wallaces donated to the museum several books written by former POWs, including Abraham, about their experience.

In recent years the museum has been overseen by Jane Kraina, whom Mary Kay applauded for her hard work.

Friday’s program also served as a dedication for two wall-length cherrywood bookcases added through a grant from the Axelroad-Shih Family Trust.

The funds came through Judy Shih and her husband, Joel Axelroad; in memory of Emily Warner, Kraina’s mother. Kraina explained Shih, a native of Taiwan now living in Oregon, was her neighbor when the two were growing up in Morgantown and Shih sees the contribution as her way of repaying the kindness shown to her family by Kraina’s family.

Also participating in the program were: Charlotte Lohr, who read, “Forgotten Men,” a poem about the troops in the Philippine Islands; West Virginia State Police Sgt. Scott Adams, a former Army Reserve captain who served in Iraq, who delivered the invocation; and Frances Dennison, who presented buddy poppies to several veterans attending.