They were captured.
In some cases they were forced to march or to work.
In other cases they were tortured.
Several residents and former prisoners of war shared their experiences recently at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque during a celebration of National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day. It’s hard to imagine being in their shoes.
There was Army veteran Walter Rencehausen, captured in Germany near the end of World War II, who recalled being targeted by his captors because of his own German heritage.
Ralph Nelson, another Army veteran from World War II, was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, forced into a three-day march and crammed into a boxcar with other prisoners before having to dodge an American bombing.
And then there was Joe Gideon, who didn’t remember any particular mistreatment after being captured in March 1945 and who told the Journal: “We were just doing our job.”
Rencehausen, Nelson and Gideon were among more than 130,000 POWs captured during World War II, more than 14,000 of whom didn’t survive their captivity, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
That sacrifice can’t be overstated.
National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day is officially recognized Tuesday. Consider taking time this week to visit a veterans monument near you, whether it’s Bataan Memorial Park in Albuquerque, Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park in Angel Fire, the MIA/POW Park in Roswell, or the Wall of Honor at the New Mexico State Capitol Rotunda.
As Gideon said, POWs were just doing their jobs. But they were doing those jobs for all of us.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.