HIGHLANDS RANCH, CO (November 9, 2015) – Veterans Day has special meaning for two former World War II POWS and current neighbors at Wind Crest retirement community.
Robert McAdam, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps Major, and Sherwin Desens, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, were both prisoners – at the same time -- in Stalag Luft I near Barth, Germany, during the war. They reconnected at Wind Crest 70 years later.
McAdam said Desens found out that he was a former POW. The two met, shared their stories and discovered they were together as prisoners in Stalag Luft I. "It's a small world," said Desens.
On July 7, 1944, four days after he arrived in Europe, McAdam, a Navigator for the Army Air Corps, was shot down in Vienna, Austria. Fifteen days later he was processed as at Stalag Luft I.
The presence of Stalag Luft I prison camp is said to have shielded the town of Barth from Allied bombing. About 9,000 airmen (7,588 American and 1,351 British and Canadian) were imprisoned there.
Desens, a pilot for the Army Air Corps, shared a similar fate when he was shot down over France and taken to Stalag Luft I. This was the third time Desens was shot down during combat, but the first when he was captured.
"The Germans were fairly predictable and well organized at the camp," said McAdam, "As long as we prisoners stayed in line, we were rarely mistreated. However, if someone did step out of line, the German soldiers were very severe with their punishments."
McAdam recalls a story of the time when Colonel Henry Spicer, a commanding officer, was sentenced to death. Spicer got word that a prisoner had stolen an iron bar off one of the doors. The Colonel addressed the prisoners and said the iron bar needed to be returned before the afternoon headcount, or else the Germans would take away the supply of coal, which was used by the prisoners to cook food and to keep warm.
"Col. Spicer started to get increasingly agitated while talking to us about the Germans and, eventually, he was accused of inciting a riot. He was later tried and sentenced to death," stated McAdam. "Luckily the Colonel was liberated before his execution. It was a very joyous day."
McAdam and Desens were liberated on the night of April 30, 1945 by Russian troops. They today are grateful to be alive and to honor all veterans.
"Veteran's Day means a lot," said Desens. "It gives me the opportunity to think of all my close friends lost during my time in the military." Desens spent 26 years on active duty. He and his wife Marilyn, have 2 children, 5 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren.
McAdam, who also served in the Korean War, said, "I count myself lucky that I am able to share my experiences, because there are a lot of soldiers who never came home."
"For a long time Veterans Day was looked at as just another holiday, but now there is a greater appreciation of honoring those people who fought for our freedom," he said.
McAdam is a retired University Professor and Director of the Office of Research Service and Grants at Illinois State University. He and his wife Grace have 6 children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.