ELYRIA – Robert S. Clegg was just 18 when his B-17 was shot down in September 1944.
The crew was taken captive by the Germans and got an immediate lesson in Nazi cruelty.
At a railroad station, Hitler Youth beat the plane’s radio operator to within an inch of his life, just because he was Jewish, Clegg said.
The ensuing nine months were filled with deprivation, fear and pain, he said.
Clegg, now 86, of Avon Lake, said he was able to recover from the injuries he suffered when he was blown from the exploding bomber and barely able to open his parachute.
However, his weight dropped from 136 pounds to 80 pounds as the prisoners survived on potatoes and black bread at Stalag Luft IV in Poland.
The last few months before liberation in May 1945 were the worst because the Germans forced the captive U.S. soldiers to march long distances with little to eat or drink, he recalled.
“I had the wrong-sized boots and it was the coldest winter in years,” Clegg said.
The experience of being a POW “made me a humble person because you have no control over your life,” said Clegg, who still has dreams about it.
Ray Unger, commander of Post 1097, said the people who survived the POW experience deserve our respect and that’s why the post holds an annual dinner and ceremony honoring them today.
The ROTC from Lorain High School will perform the touching Missing Man Ceremony, he said.
Others to be honored this year are Edward H. Yursky of North Ridgeville, Paul “Bud” Kleefeld of Elyria and Mary Wilkens of Elyria, whose late husband Tom was a POW.
In addition to those who were prisoners, Unger said it is important to remember those missing in action who were never found.
“We want to make all of America aware there are 83,000 Americans unaccounted for,” Unger said.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
WHAT: POW-MIA Missing Man Ceremony
WHEN: 5 p.m. today
WHERE: Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1079, 500 S. Abbe Road, Elyria, OH 44035