Honoring World War II POW a highlight of East Palestine ceremony

While marching in hostile territory as a member of the U.S. Army during World War II, Homer Marsh was captured by German forces, becoming a prisoner of war.

On Monday, he was presented with an American flag by members of the American Legion and VFW in East Palestine during the Memorial Day services in the park.

“It’s hard to talk about someone who has been through this,” said Bill Cunningham, outgoing commander of American Legion Post 31. “God bless him, he made it through and his family is here with him today.”

Marsh of Austintown had little to say during the ceremony, but participated by saluting during the Pledge of Allegiance and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

Honoring Marsh in East Palestine was only one of the events held on Memorial Day, a day when veterans like Marsh, who managed to come home from Stalag 5A Malschbach Ludwigsburg Wurtemb, and those who appreciate the sacrifice of our soldiers salute those who did not make it home from such places.

In Lisbon, state Rep. Nick Barborak spoke of the importance of paying it forward as a way to honor the 850,000 who have made the ultimate sacrifice since the Revolutionary War.

He also spoke of another prisoner of war, a story told by U.S. Sen. John McCain about a brave Navy bombardier-navigator, Mike Christian, who was held with McCain during the Vietnam War.

Utilizing scraps of cloth and a needle he made from bamboo, Christian sewed together an American flag, which was hidden on the inside of his prison shirt. Every afternoon before dinner, Christian and the others would hang the flag on the wall and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The flag was confiscated after it was discovered during a routine inspection by the North Vietnamese. Christian was taken from his cell and beaten just outside his cell. Later that night, with broken ribs, a punctured eardrum and swollen eyes, Christian began making a second flag.

“McCain, no stranger to bravery, credits that as the bravest act of heroism he ever witnessed,” Barborak said.

Barborak also relayed the story of a young John F. Kennedy, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Thrown with the crew into the water from their patrol torpedo boat when it was cut in half by a Japanese vessel, Kennedy and the other survivors were three miles from shore.

Ordering most of the men to grasp onto an eight-foot plank floating nearby so they could stay together and assist those who could not swim, Kennedy himself helped Pappy McMahon, who was so badly burned he had little use of his arms. Cutting a strap from McMahon’s life vest, Kennedy put the strap in his teeth and towed McMahon behind him while he swam for shore.

In Moultrie, additional tales of heroism were told by Dan Hahn, a retired Army major general who spent 36 years in the service. Hahn, who grew up in Ohio, commanded an artillery battalion during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and had two assignments in the Pentagon on the Joint and Army Staffs. During his years of service he served six tours in Europe, one in Korea and two tours in Iraq. From 2007 to 2009 he was a senior operations officer at NATO headquarters in the Netherlands, responsible for NATO Afghanistan operations.

Hahn noted that at least 11 from the Moultrie area were killed during World War II, including Staff Sgt. Wayne M. Boord and PFC Arnold J. Haessly. Boord was in the 392nd Heavy Bomber Group, during a mission to bomb an aircraft factory in Friedrichshofen, Germany, when the group lost 14 of 28 aircraft including the plane in which he was serving as the tail gunner, a B24 Liberator Heavy Bomber.

Haessly was with the 253rd Armored Field Artillery, killed on Dec. 22, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.

“The members of the Armed Forces in World War III were fighting to defend and preserve freedom for their families and their country and for millions throughout the world,” Hahn said. “These troops were unique in history because they fought and died for the freedom of people outside their own country.”

Hahn spoke of more recent heroes, like a Lt. Dave Bernstein, who following an attack on a convoy in Iraq in 2003 and despite being shot in the femoral artery of his leg, managed to roll a Humvee off the driver’s arm and save his life. Bernstein was first in his high school class and fifth in his class at West Point.

“All our heroes who perished while serving their country in our wars had aspirations for their lives,” Hahn said. “Many of them had great goals for what they hoped to achieve in life. They believed that their country was worth fighting for because they believed that the hopes and aspirations they had for themselves and their families were tied to the success and strength of their great country.”