Missouri's Ex-POWs Convene

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri Department of American Ex-Prisoners of War hosted its 37th annual state convention Saturday at the Elks Lodge.

The event gave Missouri veterans and their families the opportunity to share their stories, celebrate each other's service and honor all American prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Jefferson City resident and World War II veteran Ralph Kalberloh said the state convention is always a great opportunity to reminisce with other veterans. "Everyone is still just as cheerful," Kalberloh said. "Everyone has their favorite stories and everyone still enjoys one another's company."

State department commander Raymond Ruetsch led the convention's morning session, which included a general membership meeting, a memorial service for ex-POWs who have died in the past year and guest speakers from the Missouri Veterans Commission and Truman VA Hospital.

Jefferson City resident Wilburn Rowden read the names of lost bretheren during the memorial service. He said it is an important responsibility, one that he does not take lightly. "It's just respect to me," the World War II veteran said. "I'm lucky not to be one of them."

Rowden and Kalberloh were two of five ex-POWs at the convention during the morning session. Each spoke about how the number of World War II-era veterans is decreasing more every year. Eighty-seven year-old Sunrise Beach resident Bob Carter said that although his generation will not last forever, the Department of American Ex-Prisoners of War makes sure its veterans' stories are not forgotten. "You keep losing your friends," Carter said. "But then you meet the younger ones who are taking over the organization and it makes you feel good."

Paul Dillon, one of Saturday's guest speakers, explained to the convention plans for a POW-MIA museum at the historic Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis County. The Jefferson Barracks POW-MIA Museum will dedicate its building at the former military post May 1 at 1 pm. The dedication will be in conjunction with the final reunion of the Stalag 17-B Association, a group honoring the more than 4,000 American airmen that were held in the Allied POW camp in Austria.