In World War II I served as a Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Force assigned to a B-24 Bomber as a gunner flying in the European theatre. On March 5, 1944 over France on our 13th mission, our bomber was shot down by enemy fire. With the plane on fire, the crew parachuted out into enemy territory. The bomber spiraled upside down and lost one of its wings. I suffered injuries to both legs from shrapnel and was in time captured by the Germans.
There was no medical treatment provided. The Germans held us prisoners in deplorable conditions for 14 months. We never knew what or when we were going to eat and drink again, or even if. We never knew if we would live to see another day. We were moved between several prison camps during our captivity. At one point we were force-marched for 86 days, during which time I and several of my crew escaped. We were hunted by German soldiers with dogs, but we managed to elude them. We survived on whatever we could find to eat.
We eventually ran across an US Army truck which drove us to safety and to the 48th Field Hospital in Hanover. We arrived on May 8, 1945.
In civilian life, I have been active with veterans' organizations for several decades in various leadership roles, principally as a member of American Ex-Prisoners of War. I have served as AXPOW'S National Commander, Senior and Junior Vice Commander and have sat on the organization's Board of Directors. I also counseled other veterans on their benefits eligibility as an accredited National Service Officer. I also served as AXPOW's New Jersey State Commander and as National Director of Legislative Affairs.
Facing the enemy twice, once on the battlefield and then again in their prison camps -- and then at their mercy -- is a life experience that never leaves your mind.
--Charles Susino, Jr.