MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
Army Sgt. Edward DeMent spent 392 days as a prisoner of war before being liberated by Army Gen. George S. Patton, April 29, 1945.
He shared his story as a B-24 gunner during the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Breakfast held at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Sept. 18.
German soldiers captured the Chicago native after his B-24 bomber was shot down over Mostar, Yugoslavia, April 3, 1944.
“We were hit by an 88 millimeter round,” he said. “It did not explode but the fuse did all the damage. The round struck the navigator, bouncing off his flack jacket before going through a window and knocking out the number two engine. We lost power fast and we were ordered to bail out.”
DeMent, a top turret gunner, bailed out at 10,000 feet.
“The co-pilot gave me a nudge and I left the plane feet first through the bomb bay,” he said. “Looking down, I saw the ground coming fast. As I was falling, my chute caught the top of a tree and I fell through the branches. I landed on the rocks with my knees and face.”
After laying there for a short time, DeMent was captured by two Germans near the city of Mostar, Yugoslavia. The German soldiers blindfolded him, carried him down the side of a mountain to a flatbed truck.
He was eventually taken by train to Stalag Luft III, a POW camp located 90 miles southeast of Berlin, Germany.
“I was an enlisted man housed with the officers, which was a rarity,” he said. “The officers’ camps were in better condition than the enlisted camps. I was lucky.”
Boredom and a lack of food were his worst enemies as a POW, according to DeMent.
“I looked forward to receiving letters from home and parcels from the American Red Cross,” he said. “Letters and food were morale builders and I received 64 letters from home. There were some POWs who did not receive any letters.”
The packages contained five packs of cigarettes, one chocolate candy bar, one bar of soap and a washcloth, DeMent added.
“If it were not for the Red Cross, we would have starved,” he said.
DeMent also mentioned the POWs ate black bread every day and described its ingredients. The recipe consisted of bruised rye grain, sliced sugar beets, tree flour (saw dust), minced leaves and straw, according to DeMent.
Not only did he share the hardships he faced but the horrors of war.
“I was one of fifty men loaded in a boxcar with one guard for three days with no food or water, but what made it worse was our P-51s were coming in and strafing the trains,” he said. “They did not know we were in the trains. We lost men that day.”
DeMent’s days as a POW came to an end, April 29, 1945, after more than a year in captivity.
He recalled waking up to tanks firing rounds into a nearby town.
“The battle did not last long,” he recalled. “Not too long after the fight began, it got quiet and then we saw an observation plane fly over moving his wings back and forth. We knew we were liberated. There were about 100,000 POWs from all nationalities.”
About an hour after the battle had ended, Patton drove up in his jeep, according to DeMent.
“Standing in front of everybody with his two pearl revolvers, he thanked us for our service and told us we would be going home soon,” he said. “It was fantastic to see the American flag flying. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the camp. We were ready to go home.”
DeMent arrived back in the United States in June 1945.
After speaking about his POW experience, DeMent focused on patriotism.
“American patriotism, true American patriotism, is not about words, it’s about the feeling, the emotions when you see the Stars and Stripes waving in front of our schools or homes,” he said. “It’s the sadness we feel when she flies at half mast because we lost another hero to our country.
“Patriotism is the unexplainable emotion one gets inside when talking about America. I believe in (America) and what we stand for,” DeMent added. “Like many organizations and teams, we identify ourselves by certain colors. Red, white and blue and the pattern we display them is the symbol of our country ... the American flag.”
DeMent said he wanted the young Marines to take away two things from his experience.
“You have to believe in God and you also have to believe in your country,” he said. “Your country will get you out and they did not let us down.”
Lance Cpl. James Dallas Etheridge, administrative specialist, Military Personnel Center, MCLB Albany, was among the nearly 100 attendees at the breakfast.
“This was my first POW/MIA breakfast,” he said. “I learned that officers had a separate camp than the enlisted. I always assumed they would just be thrown in the same camp and all treated the same way. I didn’t think the enemy would actually show the officers a little more respect.
“It’s one thing to read about World War II and POWs, but to actually meet someone who was there and had to endure all of those hardships is a good experience,” Etheridge added.
Col. Don Davis, commanding officer, MCLB Albany, said it is very important to remember those who have sacrificed so much for America’s freedom.
“It is amazing to see and hear the sacrifices these men and women have gone through,” he said. “We want to remember and honor our prisoners of war and missing in action and we will continue to do so until we have every one of them accounted for.
“Like Sergeant DeMent said, we have to have faith in our country, Corps and in our community,” Davis added. “As a Marine, this means the world to me.”