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2005-09-23 - Never forgotten: Base observes POW/MIA Week

Tinker Air Force Base personnel honored former American prisoners of war at the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day breakfast Sept. 16 in the Tinker Club Ballroom.

“The National POW/MIA Remembrance Week is our opportunity to confirm we will always remember the sacrifices of those who served this great nation, those who were prisoners of war, and those who remain missing,” said 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker Installation Commander Col. Joan Cunningham.

The theme, “Never Forgotten,” referred to not only the hardships all former POWs survived, but also as a reminder of those who are still waiting to come home.

“We all know millions of Americans have fought though out this past century to preserve the freedom and the rights that we have and we enjoy in this country today,” Col. Cunningham said. “Right now, we still don’t know the fate of 78,000 Americans who fought in World War II, 8,100 Americans from the Korean War, 120 from the Cold War, over 1,900 from the Vietnam War, and three from the Gulf War. Many Americans lost their freedom as POWs and experienced suffering beyond imagination, and we are honored to have many of those heroes here with us today.”

Retired Col. Pendleton Woods was a private first class in the Army’s 99th Infantry Division after enlisting in the Army in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He and six others were carrying out a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines during the build-up for the Battle of the Bulge Dec. 10, 1944, when a German company surrounded them. After a period of imprisonment in Stalag 3-A in Germany, he was sent to a forced labor camp near Berlin. 

“As I remember it, and as all the other POWs here recognize it, it was probably the worst period of our lives,” he said. “And yet at the same time it was a great learning period in our lives because we learned to work with one another and cooperate with one another in any way we possibly could. We wanted to share because there was so very little to share.”

He talked about the first place he was held where he was one of seven men to share one blanket in a jail with no heat during the coldest European winter in recorded history.

“The thing you have to do when it’s cold is keep your feet from freezing,” he said. “We took off our shoes and put our feet together and sat like a wagon wheel with the blanket over out feet.”

After three days and four nights in this prison, Mr. Woods and his fellow prisoners were loaded on to boxcars to be transported by train to a prison camp. He said about 100 men were packed into a car designed to hold 40 and spent the next eight days there, including his 21st birthday.

On April 20, 1945, Adolf Hitler’s birthday, German guards informed the prisoners Russian troops were in the area and by midday, they were under heavy artillery fire. Later that night, he and others escaped through holes in the fence and spent the next five days evading German forces to get back to American lines. 

“We carried one of our fellow prisoners all the way back to American lines,” he said. 

Following the war, Mr. Woods was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Arkansas with a degree in journalism. He moved to Oklahoma City, where he became the public information officer for the 45th Infantry Division. 

The breakfast was one of the final events of the week, which also included a remembrance vigil in which the names of those still missing in action were read, a remembrance walk and run, and the dedication of phase two of Tinker’s POW/MIA memorial.

Photo: From reveille through retreat Sept. 13, volunteers read a list of Americans still MIA, a vigil held during the POW/MIA recognition day. SrA Sara Fournier, 963rd AACS, takes her turn reading from the list of more than 80,000 names. (Photo by Margo Wright)

(September 23, 2005)

Crystal Toenjes - Staff Writer

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