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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

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WWII pilot shares his POW experience

By Pamela Jackson, Public Affairs Specialist | | September 15, 2011

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany honored former Prisoners of War and those still Missing in Action during its 25th annual recognition breakfast held at the Base Conference Center, Friday.

The event recognizes all service members who are ex-POWs or who are still listed as unaccounted for during past conflicts.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Crawford Hicks was the guest speaker and shared his experience as a POW after his B-17 plane was shot down on May 30, 1944, during a World War II bombing mission.

Hicks, who received his flight training here at what is now known as the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, had flown 10 missions from England to Germany, before being captured near the Belgium Border in Neuenberg, Germany, as a young second lieutenant and jailed.

Military forces under the command of U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton, raised the American flag liberating Hicks and other POWs on April 29, 1945.

“The 11 months I was held a prisoner in the German POW camp was not good, but not all that bad,” he said. “I certainly did not like being in jail, but we were not treated badly. The worst part was that we were hungry all the time. Thank goodness for the Geneva Convention, which required that prisoners of war were not mistreated, at least not in Germany.”

Hicks recalled living in the barracks in triple-deck bunks with 12 men and being cold all the time because there was no heat in the rooms.

“We slept with our clothes on most of the time to stay warm,” he said. “Even during the Battle of the Bulge, which began in December, 1944, we were kept warm with mattresses and blankets. Most of our time was spent making music with the instruments donated to us and thinking of food and how to make it taste better.”

Hicks, who retired from the Air Force in January, 1967, and practiced law until 2008, reiterated that even though he was jailed for 11 months, he and the others were treated very well, despite the cold conditions, field mice and occasional scary, sobering situations. He noted the experience helped his sense of values more than anything.

“Hearing the guns, seeing the American flag raised and hearing the voice of General Patton on Easter Sunday in 1945, made us all cry,” he said. “Seeing him and the flag was a beautiful sight because we knew we were going home. I’m thankful and encourage all of you here to look around and be thankful because we have so much.”

Lance Cpl. JuVante’ Butler, administrative specialist, Military Personnel Branch, Strategic Workforce and Analysis Division, MCLB Albany, said it was a very moving speech and it was great to hear about history from someone who lived it.

“His speech connected us with the past and I really enjoyed listening to his experience,” he said.

Retired Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Lee James served as a co-pilot with the 8th Air Force, 305th Bomb Group, 365th Bomb Squadron in England and was captured in Germany on Sept. 11, 1944, and liberated May 1, 1945.

He was one of several ex-POWs in attendance at the breakfast who was captured and jailed in the same area as Hicks.

“We are about 2,000 feet in the air when I bailed out after my plane was hit,” James said. “I was treated very humanely and the difference between my parachuting in Germany and the twin towers being hit 67 years later is no comparison. It (towers being hit) was a lot worse than being a POW.”

James said it was a real honor to be invited to the recognition breakfast as a special guest.

“The soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and other wars went through hell, but I didn’t,” he said. “We were hungry, but my only concern was when and if I got out of the prison camp. The ones who died on Sept. 11, 2001, went through much more.”

According to Web site, http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/summary_statistics/, 83,580 service members remain unaccounted for, 73,787 of those still missing are from World War II.