Former POWs shared their experiences during events at Andersonville National Historic Site

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Date: April 10, 2018
Contact: Jody Mays, 229-924-0343 ext. 115

Release Date: 4/10/18
Contacts:    Jody Mays, jody_mays@nps.gov, 229 924-0343, ext. 115
NR18-08 

    
“As the wounded died, we stacked them in a corner”

Former POWs shared their experiences during events at Andersonville National Historic Site

ANDERSONVILLE, Georgia Former prisoners of war stood as living examples of American courage and resilience as they shared their experiences during events this past weekend at Andersonville National Historic Site.

Sergeant Seymour Lichtenfeld, now in his 90s, served in the U.S. Army as a combat infantryman during World War II. “I was captured during the Battle of the Bulge at the point of a bayonet…[and] was transported in a locked box car jammed with over 65 men” he recalled. “During those days we had very little to eat or drink…and as the wounded died, we stacked them in a corner to squeeze a little bit more room for ourselves.”

Lichtenfeld, a Jewish American, survived five months of captivity in four German prison camps in 1944-1945. He described one morning when the Germans lined up all of the American prisoners in the camp and ordered all Jews to step forward. “Immediately a whispered command was sent through the ranks: no one step forward.” The Germans then threatened to shoot everyone. When it looked like they would, he recalled, “another whispered command was passed through the ranks: everyone step forward.” The Germans became enraged and forced the prisoners to stand out in the rain all day with no food. But, he said, the prisoners formed “a bond of friendship…behind enemy barbed wire that exists to this day.”

Colonel David Eberly (USAF ret.) spoke about how the “invasion by Saddam Hussein into the Saudi Arabian peninsula…forever changed the lives of many who deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield.” After being shot down in in 1991, he and fellow crewman Tom Griffith managed to evade the enemy for 3 nights but were eventually captured on the Syrian border. Eberly relayed how they “spent time in isolation in 4 different prisons, where we lived moment by moment.”

Perhaps the most poignant account came from Captain William Robinson (USAF ret.), who endured 2,703 days of captivity during the Vietnam War. He was shot down and captured in North Vietnam on September 20, 1965 and spent the next seven and a half years facing daily suffering and torture at the hands of the enemy.

Robinson summarized his time in captivity as “hours, days, weeks, months, and yes even years of boredom punctuated by terror.” He described daily life there. “We wore black pajamas…our shoes were cut from the sidewall of an old car tire. No radio, no tv, no music, no phone; no hot water; cold in the winter; hot in the summer; [and] limited if any medical care.” He recalled that “our outside time was limited for the first five years to about fifteen minutes a day. We took a bath sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month.”

“Along with other prisoners of war, I was tortured and abused” Robinson said. “Luck was on my side when I say I only spent about six months in solitary confinement, whereas many guys spent over four years in solitary confinement in a small 5’x7’ cell.” But Robinson and his fellow prisoners “kept the faith” he said proudly. “I said we had four central faiths we lived by: faith in ourselves, that we had the tools to get the job done; faith in each other, that we would stand together and that we would return home together with honor; faith in our country, that it would not abandon us under difficult circumstances; but most of all faith in our Heavenly Father, that He would see us through.”

Robinson, Eberly, and Lichtenfeld were among nearly a dozen former American prisoners of war and civilian internees from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq who gathered at the park along with hundreds of veterans, dignitaries, American Legion riders, and other visitors to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the National Prisoner of War Museum.

Andersonville National Historic Site, the American Ex-Prisoners of War, and the Friends of Andersonville partnered to host the event to honor former American POWs and recognize the important mission of the museum. Events included a flyover by the Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark of an L-19 aircraft and a UH-1 Huey helicopter; landing and display of the helicopter; performances by bagpiper Dan Gillan, the Lee County High School Navy Junior ROTC Armed Drill Team, and the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence ceremonial band; and a special program about military training in survival, evasion, resistance, and escape. A 3-foot cake was custom made for the occasion.

Major General Craig C. Crenshaw, Commanding General of the Marine Corps Logistics Command, came to pay tribute to the POWs in attendance, declaring them to be “an inspiration to all the members of our armed forces now, and those yet to serve. We recognize your personal strength to hold fast and, most importantly, your indelible spirit to preserve and triumph through your experience.”

U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop also offered remarks and told the POWs “Your contributions are unparalleled. Your courage and your bravery have made this world a better place to live.” He described Andersonville National Historic Site as “home to everyone who helps make sure that America remembers what our brave men and women endured in defense of freedom for the rest of us.” U.S. Senators David Perdue and Johnny Isakson wrote letters for the program in honor of the event.

 Superintendent Charles Sellars hosted the ceremony. He detailed the 30-year effort it took to establish a national museum dedicated to all American prisoners of war. Since opening in 1998, he noted, the museum has been visited by more than 2.6 million people from across the country and around the world including military groups, researchers, former POWs, and thousands of students each year.

Sellars read from a letter written for the 1998 opening of the museum by U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Douglas “Pete” Peterson, who was himself a POW during the Vietnam War. Peterson wrote that “Destiny has marked this remarkable place for high purpose. It is our legacy and the legacy of all Americans throughout our Nation’s history that were POWs that we honor here. The National POW Museum will serve to educate this and future generations about their sacrifices and will capture in its displays a vivid picture of the high cost of freedom.” Sellars added, “It is our privilege to continue that mission and to honor those who endured the loss of their freedom to protect ours.”

Andersonville National Historic Site is located 10 miles south of Oglethorpe, GA and 10 miles northeast of Americus, GA on Georgia Highway 49. The national park features the National Prisoner of War Museum, Andersonville National Cemetery and the site of the historic Civil War prison, Camp Sumter. ­Andersonville National Historic Site is the only national park within the National Park System to serve as a memorial to all American prisoners of war. Park grounds are open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The National Prisoner of War Museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., daily. Admission is free. For more information on the park, call 229 924-0343, or visit at www.nps.gov/ande/ Visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AndersonvilleNPS, Twitter www.twitter.com/andeNHS

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Last updated: April 16, 2018

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