Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.
COLUMBIA — Individuals with a common interest often come together and form groups for the purposes of camaraderie or the sharing of information. But one local group has formed a unique bond that was forged while its members were held captive as American prisoners of war (POWs).
During a recent meeting of the Central Missouri Chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, former POWs and their families gathered in Columbia to share both a meal and stories of sacrifice.
“My husband was held by Germans for eight months during World War II,” said Doris Duckworth, the chapter’s secretary and treasurer.
Although her husband passed on four years ago, Duckworth remains active in the organization out of respect for his service and an unexpected interest.
"My husband was never one to join an organization,” she said. “But when he got a notice years ago that a meeting (of former POWs) was occurring, I was surprised that he agreed to attend and later joined.”
Established in 1942 by families concerned with the treatment their loved ones were receiving while held captive by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II, the organization began providing aid to the captured Americans.
In later years the organization, whose membership was once fueled by an influx of World War II-era POWs, began to diminish as the older veterans began to pass away and fewer POWs from more recent conflicts joined.
“We had a Korean War POW who is no longer active, and I’m the only Vietnam veteran in the group,” stated John Clark, a local Vietnam veteran whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. He went on to spend to six years in captivity at prison camps such as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Clark joined the central Missouri chapter in the late 1980s and has enjoyed learning of the experiences of the World War II veterans in the group.
“This is truly a unique organization, but we have fewer members every year,” Clark said. “I just want to help the organization out as it continues to age.”
The chapter’s quarterly meetings include guest speakers who share information about resources and programs that may be of benefit to the veterans and their families — such as medical benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In an effort to sustain the organization, Ralph Kalberloh, the chapter’s commander and himself a World War II POW, explains they are seeking involvement from more than just the former captives.
“About 10 years ago we used to have over 200 members,” he explained. “We currently have 31 members.”
“We really want to see more families and next-of-kin of POWs involved if we are going to keep the organization alive,” he added.
Former POWs and their families can acquire information on eligibility for the Central Missouri Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War by contacting Commander Ralph Kalberloh at (573) 619-4977.
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