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Rhinelander POW recalls escape from German camp during World War II

IRON MOUNTAIN – A Rhinelander, Wis. man who spent several months as a prisoner of war (POW) in Germany during World War II was the featured speaker at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center’s annual POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony on Friday.

Glenn Johnson addressed dozens of attendees, including fellow POWs, veterans, family members, and VA officials.

Johnson said that his military story began more than 70 years ago when he was a teenager sitting in algebra class. It was World War II, his brother was already serving in the armed forces, and two of his friends had just been killed in the conflict.

“I didn’t want to be stuck in algebra,” he explained. “I asked my teacher if I could be excused because I was going to go join the army.”

Right away, Johnson knew he wanted to be a paratrooper in the airborne division of the army. He trained for months at boot camp, then went off to parachute jump training.

Johnson then departed for Europe. After spending some time training in England, he crossed the English Channel via airplane and parachuted into France on the morning of D-Day.

Unfortunately, Johnson and his fellow soldiers landed far from their target drop zone. After several days, they saw an enemy Tiger tank coming their way.

“The last thing I heard was ‘Johnson, incoming grenades,'” he said. “I woke up in a German hospital.”

Johnson spent the rest of that summer, fall, and early winter in a German POW camp.

One day, the Germans asked for some volunteers to leave the camp and cut firewood. Johnson and two of his fellow soldiers gladly took the opportunity.

Johnson said that since it was snowing hard, the three decided to take the chance and escape.

For the next five months, they wandered through Germany and Czechoslovakia.

“We were cold, hungry, and had no idea where we were located,” said Johnson. “I was 165 pounds and only 89 pounds when I got back.”

Their ordeal came to an end one day when they saw a British airplane being shot down. They found the soldiers who had parachuted out of the plane, and the soldiers knew their location and where to go for safety.

Within two weeks, they were back behind American lines.

Besides Johnson, there were six other local POWs in attendance at Friday’s ceremony. A moment of silence was held for the four local POWs who had passed away since last year’s ceremony.

“Our country is certainly indebted to you for your sacrifice and service,” said Nicole Kleist, acting associate director of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center.

Kleist added that there are currently 83,189 American soldiers listed as missing in action from past conflicts. There are 73,536 from World War II; 7,880 from the Korean War; 126 from the Cold War; 1,641 from the Vietnam War; and six from Iraq and other conflicts.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day is held annually on the third Friday in September.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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