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Ex-prisoners, MIAs honored at hospital

September 19, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - World War II ended more than 50 years ago, but for many survivors of the conflict, not a day goes by that they don't think about the war.

American troops who were taken prisoner during the war were starved in German and Japanese war camps. Some prisoners lost more than 50 pounds, and this led to conditions that still plague them today, officials said.

Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center east of Martinsburg said they have identified certain heart ailments and other complications related to the malnutrition that WWII veterans suffered.

"You think about it every day. Every time I sit down to eat, I think about what I didn't have for 3 1/2 years," said Harold Hart, 76, of Frederick, Md.

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"We can't comprehend some of the horrors these people went through," said George W. Moore Jr., director of the VA hospital.

Moore's comments came during National POW-MIA Recognition Day ceremonies at the VA hospital. Similar ceremonies were held in VA hospitals across the country Friday to honor former POWs and remember military personnel who are still missing in action, officials said.

About 50 former prisoners of war from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland were recognized at the local hospital.

Marshall Hamer, 78, of Front Royal, Va., spent 19 months in a POW camp after his plane was shot down during World War II. Hamer said he and the other prisoners were given a bowl of "soup" and a piece of bread twice a day.

"We called it soup because we didn't know what it was," said Hamer, who said he lost about 100 pounds. Hamer has told officials about other atrocities in the camps, such as throwing dead animals in prisoners' water supplies.

Stanley Showman spent 3 1/2 months in a war camp, but "that was long enough. We just about starved to death," said Showman, who lives near New Market, Va. Showman said he regularly comes to the VA hospital for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and frostbite, which he also suffered during the war.

Hart said he has been to the annual ceremony at the VA center before, but he doesn't come every year because it conjures up too many bitter memories of the war.

To remember soldiers who did not come home from U.S. conflicts, a small dinner table draped with a white tablecloth was set up on a stage during the ceremony. An empty chair at the table symbolized the soldier who did not come home, and a lemon at the place setting stood for his bitter faith through the war.

A salt shaker symbolized the tears of family members and a lighted candle stood for the eternal memories of the veteran.

An estimated 78,751 military personnel are listed as missing in action from World War II. There are about 8,177 missing in action from the Korean War and about 1,300 missing in action from the Vietnam War.

It is believed some of the MIAs are still living and have probably taken up new lives, adapting to the culture in the countries where they were captured, said Jerry Beightol, POW social work service coordinator at the VA hospital.

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