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178th honors World War II veterans

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Michael Gibson
  • 178th Fighter Wing
Members of the 178th Fighter Wing honored more than 40 World War II veterans for their military service April 19 at Young's Jersey Dairy, Springfield, Ohio.

Wing members in formation greeted the veterans as they arrived with a Patriot Guard escort and presented them with a check of more than $900 that the unit raised to cover the veterans and their spouses' lunches.

"I saw many tears back at the hotel when the Patriot Guard showed up," said Marilyn Walton, Stalag Luft III Reunion organizer. "Then I saw lots more when the people on our buses saw your proud personnel standing there at attention."

The veterans were 8th Air Force bomber crew members who were shot down and held as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft III, according to Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Doohen, 178th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

The Stalag Luft III was the prison camp for downed Airmen run by the Luftwaffe, according to the U.S. Air Force Academy's web site.

This particular Stalag was the basis for the movie "The Great Escape," where 76 Allied POWs escaped through tunnels. Seventy-three were subsequently re-captured, and 50 of those were then executed by the Gestapo, said Doohen.

According to Doohen, this Stalag is also known for what is commonly referred to as the "Death March Across Germany" when the Germans forced 11,000 prisoners to march more than 60 miles through harsh conditions.

"Many did not survive," said Doohen. "Until liberated by Gen. Patton, these men spent the rest of the war in squalid conditions, with over 120,000 men crammed into a camp that was built to hold only 20,000."

Col. Gregory Schnulo, 178th Fighter Wing commander, was one of the many Airmen present to honor the heroes.

"It was an incredible day, and one that I am very proud to be a part of," said Schnulo.

The veterans showed excitement as they met their Patriot Guard escort and were astounded when they saw the 178th's presence at Young's, according to Doohen.

"I only wish you could have heard all the comments that I was privy to on the bus," said Walton. "These veterans will never forget that day when our own Ohio patriots turned out to greet them."