Veterans, families honor war prisoners, those still missing
by Janelle Walker for The Courier-News September 23, 2012 4:50PM
John Smith of Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 5915 in Carpentersville stand guard during the National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day Ceremony Friday at Carpernter Park in Carpentersville. This Special Day Honors All Prisoners of War and All Americans Still Missing is Action. September 21, 2012 | David Ham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 24, 2012 6:48AM
ELGIN — Don McCormick calls himself the 60-day wonder of the U.S. Army Rangers.
The Park Ridge man, in his late 80s now, had only been a ranger for two months when he was shot down and captured by German troops in World War II.
He was one of a handful of former prisoners of war or the families of those missing in action that attended the annual Carpentersville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5915 ceremony on the national POW/MIA recognition day. Held Friday night at Carpenters Park’s Veterans Garden, about 100 people attended the rain-drenched service.
The Carpentersville VFW has recognized American servicemen and women who either were prisoners of enemy forces or who never returned from war for the past 25 years, said Jack Hosey, the master of ceremonies.
McCormick said he decided on his way to the ceremony that he wanted to speak.
“If there is one thing that we accomplish tonight, don’t forget the significance … of the prisoners of war,” McCormick said.
He lived in a farm prison camp. There, they were paid for the work they did on the farm, which they turned around and used to bribe the guard. Once a month, that guard would take the captured soldier into the town’s beer garden, McCormick said.
The townsfolk would pass by the soldier with calls of “Heil Hitler,” he said. “We would say ‘Heil Roosevelt,’” McCormick said.
Another area veteran who has attended the ceremony “for years” is Norm Zuckerman, now 88, Hosey said.
In past years, Zuckerman told him about living through the winter in 1944-45 with just the clothes they were captured in, and light blankets to sleep on dank floors, Hosey said.
Since World War I, the U.S. has had 86,000 POWs or MIAs, Hosey said. Many people are aware of those from Vietnam, where 1,675 soldiers were listed as missing in action.
Bob Panek Sr. was one of those. His plane was shot down in 1970 and was listed as missing in action until May 1989, when his remains were positively identified.
His son, Bob Panek, of Huntley, has attended the ceremony for 22 years.
More remains are identified every year, Hosey said. Just this year, the remains of American servicemen, including those from WW II, Korea and Vietnam, have been identified, he said.
“Loved ones were left behind. That is never acceptable,” Hosey said.