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World War II POWs Share Memories

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On this Veteran’s Day eve, Amita Sharma caught up with some former soldiers who shared their remembrances from World War II.

It’s been over 50 years since this country’s World War II veterans saw combat. But that doesn’t mean the emotional scars for some of the ex-soldiers, especiallly former prisoners of war have faded. The Veterans Administration Center in Mission Valley holds a weekly support group for POWs.

More than 130,000 Americans were captured as prisoners of war during World War II. 88-year-old Frank Burger was one of them. He was an air corpsman shot down over Poland in 1944 and taken captive by the Germans. The conditions were harsh.

Frank Burger: We didn’t have any food. The German government didn’t have food for their own people let a lone us. And it was a starvation period. No medication. I lost 60 pounds in a matter of a couple of months. Practically everybody had pneumonia or dysentary and they were starving to death.

Many POWs had to scavenge for food off the ground and were exposed to icy weather to the point where their clothing would freeze to the ground. The fear of not knowing what would happen to them has left emotional wounds that have not healed, according to retired doctor Fernando Tellez, himself an ex-air corpsman who was also a POW.

Fernando Tellez, World War II POW: One would think that with that passage of time, that people, individuals would forget things but human beings being what we are, our minds still cling to our previous experiences and for example we have people in our group, 80 and 85, that were paratroopers and they report to us that they still fall out of bed at night with nightmares of parachuting. This is 50 years later.

The support group is especially important because many POWs don’t easily discuss their traumas.

Tellez : As a consequence these things are tied up in them and we find that coming to our meetings, individuals speak to one another and that in itself is very therapeutic.

Tellez said the support group doesn’t take itself too seriously and that humor is the POWs' best therapy.

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