COLUMBIA — Ralph Kalberloh was a prisoner of war almost 70 years ago, but he still remembers the experience with great detail.
While Kalberloh, 87, was serving as a tail gunner and sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he was taken prisoner.
“It was terrible,” Kalberloh said. “There was so much that you didn’t know.”
Kalberloh was one of five prisoners of war who attended the annual 33rd Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran's POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday. The ceremony honored Missourians missing in action and former prisoners of war, including Jacque Jeffords, James Losey, William McGeehan Sr. and Robert Weinberg.
About 32 prisoners of war were invited to the event but many are elderly and in poor health, the hospital's public affairs officer Stephen Gaither said.
Kalberloh noted the number of POWs is dwindling, as evidenced by the drop-off he has seen in Missourians on the mailing list for the Central Missouri Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War, where he is commander.
“It’s kind of disheartening,” Kalberloh said. The group used to include around 200 people — its mailing list is now down to around 29, about half of whom are next of kin to former POWs.
Although the number of living POWs has declined, Kalberloh's memories of his service have not been lost.
Kalberloh was on a B-17 Flying Fortress plane going over Germany when its nine crew members were left with only one of four engines. The crew parachuted out of their plane in Germany instead of flying back to their base in England. He survived three days with only a candy bar to eat.
Eventually, Kalberloh came across a farmer and his wife. The farmer’s wife cooked him dinner and admired his boots. Kalberloh gave them to her.
He was then taken to the local constable’s home where he was fed again before the German secret service interrogated him and forced him to undress.
Kalberloh was then transported to Frankfurt and interrogated again upon his arrival. He did not give up information about his base commander.
He was eventually assigned to a prison camp in Nuremberg. After three months of imprisonment, he was liberated by U.S. General George Patton.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 14,072 U.S. POWs died during their imprisonment; Kalberloh lived to tell his story.
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