SOLON– Imagine living for six weeks, only eating one handful of field corn per day. Ted Sprouse doesn’t have to imagine it.
He lived it.
Sprouse was serving the US Army in Korea in 1950 when the Chinese swarmed the American and UN lines. He was wounded and captured, wearing a summer-issue uniform as winter set in. For six weeks, a daily handful of corn, his only ration, sustained him.
“We survived that,” he told students at the Solon High School.
Sprouse and eight other ex-Prisoners of War (POWs) spoke at the annual POW/MIA Recognition Day event, telling American History students about their wartime experiences. The event was held on Friday September 16, the 32nd nationally recognized POW/MIA day. According to Barry Sharp, Director of the Iowa City VA Medical Center, there are still 88,000 Missing In Action. 78,000 are from WW2, 1800 from the Vietnam War, 120 from the “Cold War Era,” one from the first Gulf War and three from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“These are not just numbers,” Sharp told the audience, “each man has a name and a family.”
Sharp noted there are 30,000 ex-POWs still alive, and acknowledging the nine assembled, he reminded the students that “you get to see living history.”
Leland Chandler shared a lesson with the students.
“I was captured on Corregidor. Your history books won’t likely tell you much about it.” The US forces were outnumbered “100 to one” when the Japanese landed. Once captured, Chandler was sent to Japan to work in a steel mill owned by a man named Mitsubishi.
“He builds cars now in Illinois,” Chandler joked, but grew deadly serious when he told the students that of the 400 he was sent to the plant with, only 52 made it to the end of the war.
Chandler choked up when he spoke of the nurses stationed on Corregidor, who stayed behind despite two opportunities to evacuate, and ended up in captivity also.
“All the nurses stayed. You read about the brutality, but you’ll never imagine what the Japs did to those nurses.” Chandler said the nurses have never spoken of the horrors they endured, often in front of the captured men.
“People can’t ever say enough about those nurses” he said.
Over 35 years later, Chandler was finally able to stand up and say, “I forgive the Japanese people.” A frequent attendee of the Solon event, Chandler told of some purely American fun, had at the expense of his Japanese captors. Within days of the atomic bombings of Japan, American bombers dropped barrels of supplies into his prison camp. Included were chocolate bars and, “for some reason, they sent a bunch of chocolate Ex-Lax bars.” Chandler said the Americans were “most generous” with the Japanese guards when it came to sharing the Ex-Lax.
“We didn’t see a single guard for three days,” he said with a smile, drawing a room full of laughs.
Dick Child’s tale went from reminiscing about his aspirations to be a pilot, training to be a gunner, and flying in B-17 bombers; to a deadly serious moment. His plane was among 2,000 bombers and 1,500 fighters on a raid over Berlin, when they were engulfed in Anti-Aircraft Artillery.
“It was like flying through a black cloud” he said of the flak and smoke, when the plane was hit.
“The pilot was on fire and he died, the engineer stayed with him until it crashed.” Child and the other survivors bailed-out into sub-zero cold. He landed in a tree and was met by a farmer. Dazed and tangled in his parachute straps, Child tried to decide what to do with the man, who was armed with a pitchfork. “I thought it was time to pull out the .45 (pistol), he said. “I could’ve shot him, but I didn’t know if I should or not.” Child ultimately fired one round at the man’s feet and “motioned for him to run away, and he did.” A squad of German soldiers quickly took the farmer’s place, and Child ended up at Luft Stalag 2.
“If I gave you all of the details, I’d be here two to three hours,” he said.
Ray Olinger enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, like Child, but ended up being transferred to the infantry as a member of the 7th Army. Shortly before being captured by the Germans on New Year’s Eve, he and his fellow soldiers were greeted with “Happy New Year, Yankee bastards!”
Orville Jackson watched a friend die shortly before his capture.
“Oh Jack, I guess I’m done for,” his friend said after a German tank shell crashed into the building they were holed-up in. Jackson was a POW for five months before the end of the war in Europe.
Life back home had its share of adventures for these men as well.
George Smith shared a tale proving government inefficiency is nothing new. After having enlisted (rather than being drafted), he too was captured by the Germans. Following a four-year enlistment, including his time as a POW, Smith returned home to find a letter threatening him with prison for failing to register for the draft.
“I’ve had a good life back here at home,” Sprouse said.
“Every day is a bonus, every day is a blessing,” Chandler said, who was about to turn 84.