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Ceremony honors those who have served

December 09, 2002|by BONNIE HELLUM BRECHBILL

Sipping coffee in the back of the Salvation Army's mobile kitchen, John F. "Jack" Hawley of Mercersburg, Pa., recalled his prisoner of war days in Germany during World War II.

"We slept on straw with lice and fleas," he said. "Breakfast was brown bread and half of a tin can of chicory. For lunch, half of a tin can of barley or rutabaga soup. That was the rations for the day."

Hawley was honored at a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony Saturday outside the Chambersburg Wal-Mart. Celebrating a history of service to America, the Salvation Army honored "all those brave people who have served our nation as part of the military forces, law enforcement and emergency services - people who make our very existence possible," said Capt. John Brooks, commanding officer of the Chambersburg Salvation Army.

Interned for nearly a year at three different POW camps, Hawley was a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. He was 19 and leading a patrol with the 5th Army in Italy when he was captured due to incorrect intelligence information given to the Army by Italian citizens.

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Because Hawley was a noncommissioned officer, he did not have to work while imprisoned. He did not even have to line up for roll call.

"We got weak from the starvation diet, and they counted us while we were laying in the straw," he said.

Morale among the prisoners was low, Haley added.

"But we built two radios, and we listened to the BBC broadcast through the French underground every night at midnight," he said. "We wrote down the news to go to all the barracks and tents. That helped, when we knew they were advancing towards us.

"The Russians came into our camp on a Sunday, and they threw a guard around it and were going to keep us there. We cut the wire at night and took off."

With four other escapees, Hawley walked for five days through the fighting, digging potatoes from German gardens to survive. Finally, the group arrived at the Elbe River, where American troops were fighting the Battle of Berlin.

"What a wonderful sight to see that American jeep," he said. "They gave us food and cigarettes, which we enjoyed very much."

Hawley said that after being taken to the American camp he and the other escapees were kept separate from the rest of the troops until they could be deloused. He then spent two weeks in an evacuation hospital in France.

At the Pearl Harbor Day ceremony, the VFW Honor Guard presented the colors and led the Pledge of Allegiance. About 20 people braved sub-freezing temperatures for the event.

Byron Ashburn, VFW Honor Guard member and commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 78, recognized Hawley for his service to America.

"We salute you for having served your country honorably under very difficult circumstances as a POW," Ashburn said.

After being discharged from the Army, Hawley worked in the electrical business for 40 years, then served as transportation director for the Tuscarora School District until his retirement.

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