National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day
On April 9, 1942, the largest number of American troops were captured and sent forth on the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II. Every year, April 9th is designated National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day by a Proclamation from the President of the United States of America. In observance of this day of remembrance, honor these courageous Americans by taking time to hear their stories, told in their own words, and recorded by the VLB Voices of Veterans oral history program.
Andrew Bardagjy was an Army corporal with the 103rd Infantry Division and fought through frigid conditions in Germany during World War II. In his interview he recounts tales of fierce combat and his eventual capture by the Nazis.
“They marched us all day and into the night,” recounted Mr. Bardagjy. “They put us on a train and took us to a transient camp at Ludwigsburg Germany, there were hundreds of POWs there.”
Mr. Bardagjy recalls how he survived as a Prisoner of War and the emotions he felt upon gaining his freedom. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his actions. Listen to Mr. Bardagjy’s story here.
Morris Barker served as a B-24 nose and tail gunner during World War II and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from March 1943 through October 1945. He was later shot down and held as a German Prisoner of War until the end of the war. He left the service with the rank of Sergeant. Listen to Mr. Barker’s story here.
Robert Bearden served with the U.S. Army 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in the Normandy invasion. Because Bearden’s unit was one of the last to jump on D-Day, the element of surprise was lost and the German’s were prepared for their arrival. He was wounded twice and eventually captured by the Nazis and held as a prisoner until the end of the war.
Mr. Bearden spoke about his experiences at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day Commemoration on June 6, 2014, at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. After sharing his memories of that fateful day, a French woman rose from her seat in the audience to thank Mr. Bearden for his service.
“If it had not been for American soldiers invading Normandy that day, I would not have the opportunity to be in America listening to you today,” she said.
With deep sincerity, Mr. Bearden replied “You were worth it. You were worth fighting for.”
Paul Ruska was a radioman and gunner, serving from May 1942 until November 1945. He was shot down over Europe and spent 16 months as a Prisoner of War of the German military. His wife, Julianne Ruska, was a WAVE during World War II and served stateside. Listen to Mr. Ruska tell his story here.
A native of the small town of Woodson, Texas, Buck Turner served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese when the Phillipines fell. He was freed when the Japanese surrendered several years later. Listen to Mr. Turner tell his story here.
Ken Wallingford served in the U.S. Army from 1969 until 1973. He attended paratrooper school at Fort Benning and Special Forces, phase one training, at Fort Bragg. He was sent to Vietnam in August 1970 and was assigned as a sniper with the 25th Infantry Division.
One year later, Mr. Wallingford volunteered for a second tour of duty as a military advisor with the Military Assistance Command Vietnam. He was captured on April 5, 1972 when his unit was overrun and spent ten months in a tiger cage in a POW camp in Cambodia. He was finally released on February 12, 1973. Mr. Wallingford was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts among numerous other decorations. Today he is the Senior Advisor for Veterans Affairs at the Texas Veterans Land Board (VLB). Listen to Mr. Wallingford tell his story here.
Puett Willcox served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force from 1942 through 1968. During World War II he was a ball turret gunner on a B-24 when he was shot down over Austria and held for a year as a prisoner of war. He retired as a master sergeant and now resides in Longview, Texas. Listen to Mr. Wilcox tell his story here.
The VLB Voices of Veterans oral history program seeks to record the stories of Texas Veterans and archive the transcripts for future researchers, historians, genealogists and the general public. For more information visit www.VoicesofVeterans.org or contact the program coordinator, Monica Brown, at 1–800–252-VETS (8387) or email@example.com.