WELLSBURG - While the American Ex-Prisoners of War Barbed Wire Chapter was expecting a special guest for their July 18 meeting who didn't make it, the occasion offered several members of the group the opportunity to share a little of their own stories.
Jessica Lynch, the Palestine, W.Va. native and former soldier who was captured and later rescued while serving in Iraq in 2003, had been slated to speak to the group July 18 at Staffileno's on the River but was unexpectedly detained.
As the group awaited Lynch's arrival, Marilyn McCord of Wellsburg, one of many guests in attendance, suggested the former POWs share some of their experiences.
Chartered in 1974, the group is comprised of about 28 former POWs from Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Belmont counties who meet monthly for camaraderie and have spoken to students and other groups.
John Chernenko of Wellsburg, the group's president and a former U.S. marshal and state Senator, described how he and other soldiers were marched by German captors for 63 days to railroads where they were loaded into crowded boxcars for transportation to the POW camps.
Each boxcar had a barrel of drinking water and another for human waste, he said.
Noting there was animosity between the Germans and Russians, his name "caused me a lot of problems. They beat the devil out of me," he said.
Like Chernenko, Peter Lallone of Wellsburg recalled being marched by the Germans for many days after being captured during the Battle of the Bulge.
Tom Lyke of Colliers, a POW during the Korean War, was among 850 captured by Communist Chinese troops led by a major known only to his captors as "The Tiger" because he seemed to enjoy killing.
"The Tiger" and his troops had captured American troops and civilians, including several missionaries and nuns, and forced them to march 190 miles "as the crow flies" to prison camps.
Not all of the captives made it to the camps. Many were shot, beaten to death or died from exposure or infection, Lyke said.
During his captivity, his weight dropped from 157 pounds to 87 pounds, he said.
Several other World War II veterans spoke.
Anthony Leo of Wheeling told how he was in the front line during World War II and was very fortunate because he "never got a scratch."
Sam Yocum of Bridgeport, W.Va., was a ball turret gunner aboard a bomber plane that was shot down over Vienna, resulting in the death of three crew members and his imprisonment at a POW camp for 6 months.
Dave Dean of St. Clairsville, Ohio, a retired Air Force major, said he was a cadet aboard a bomber plane targeting a Daimler-Benz plant in Berlin known for manufacturing automobiles but involved in producing tanks during the war, when it too was shot down.
He was among about 8,000 captured and imprisoned for two months until their rescue near the war's end.
Alvin Bucks of McMechen, W.Va. related how he and another soldier parachuted into enemy territory after their plane was hit and how he was shot five times during his service.
Boyd Engle of Glen Dale, W.Va. spoke of his capture by Axis forces while serving in Italy.
Many guests commented on the need for the veterans to share their stories with others so that aspect of history won't be forgotten when they die.
The group also heard from Howard Armstrong, president of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation. Located at Brooke Hills Park, the memorial park will honor all Brooke County veterans and memorialize those who died while serving in wars dating from World War I to the present, he said.
Some construction has begun but the group will continue over the next few months to accept sponsors of granite pavers that will form the floor leading to the monuments.
The cost is $150 to sponsor a paver, which may be inscribed with the name of a veteran or any loved one, living or dead, he said.
Armstrong noted the park was inspired by the death of Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., a Wellsburg native who was killed in a skirmish in Iraq.
For information about the pavers, call Armstrong at (304) 670-2224.
The Ex-American POWs Barbed Wire Chapter meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at various locations. For information, call Chernenko at (304) 737-1626.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)