90-Year-Old WWI POW Remembers Luck, Survival on Veterans Day

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COLUMBIA - As a community converged at the Boone County Courthouse Friday for the MU Joint ROTC 26th Annual Veterans Day Parade and Vigil, many veterans of Columbia's V.F.W. Post 280 simply reflected on their memories--recollections of fear, death, heroism and sheer survival in the U.S. military. 

WWII veteran Harold Carter laughed as he described himself as a "Navy guy with the third-highest Army medal."  But, Carter's story is nothing to laugh about.  The man, now living in an assisted living center in Columbia, is a former prisoner of war. He operated a ship out of Pearl Harbor for over three years and then was sent to Corregidor in Manila Bay, southwest of the Philippines.  On May 6, 1942, he was captured by the Japanese and sent to Camp 3 of Cabana Duan prison for five months.  He then was taken on a Japanese prison ship for 30 days to a new prison in Manchuria, where he lived in what he describes as wretched conditions.  On Aug. 20, 1945, the Russians liberated Manchuria, and Carter was free.  Even on his journey back to the U.S., Carter didn't know the extent of his luck.  Had the Russians arrived nine days later, Carter would be dead.  His execution at the prison was set for Aug. 29, 1945.

In 2005, Carter journeyed back to Japan, accompanied by his late wife, son, President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush.  He said the Japanese treated him "like King."  Like many of his fellow veterans, Carter has found not only closure, but the good that has come out of what happened to him.  He said the experience taught him courage, strength and humility.

Post 280 WWII Navy veteran Bill Vaughn echoed Carter's mentality.  "That experience was the best I ever had."

The V.F.W. held a breakfast Friday morning, and about 50 of 689 Post 280 veterans, including Vaughn and his Vietnam veteran sons, attended.  Columbia V.F.W. Post Commander and Vietnam veteran Don Briggs helped coordinate the breakfast and a Post 280 Honor Guard to participate in the county's Veterans Day events. Following the event, Briggs and other Honor Guard members of Post 280 participated in the 11 a.m. Boone County Court House ceremony.  

Though Briggs said Post 280 is focusing on celebrating the heroism of veterans, both alive and deceased, he does not dilute the grimmer reality of what today also represents--years of war, casualties and a unified fight for a country.  This fight and its associated memories have befallen many veterans with a price.  As Briggs described, "It can get to you after a while."