This month I had the great honor of spending time with some of our true heroes, the surviving WWII POW's of Stalag XVII-B, during their last annual reunion.

The reunion is for POWs who were air crew members of the U.S. Army Air Forces; most of whom had begun their Nazi detention in similar ways. During missions over many German cities, their B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators had been shot down by German fighters or anti-aircraft guns, sending crew members plummeting to the ground while fumbling with parachutes and praying for survival. When captured, the American pilots, bombardiers, flight engineers, gunners and other crewmen were funneled into a processing center, near Frankfurt, Germany, for interrogation. At Dulag Luft, the German Luftwaffe officers separated the commissioned officers from the non-commissioned officers, sending the non-commissioned to Stalag VII-A. On 13 October 1943, 1350 non-commissioned officers of the Air Force were transferred from Stalag 7A to Stalag 17B. In total, 4,237 airmen ended up in Stalag XVII-B, just outside of Krems, Austria, in barracks made for 240 men.

On April 8, 1945, the gates of Stalag XVII-B were opened, and 4,000 filthy, scrawny, and hungry airmen were force-marched by guards onto the road west. (About 200 sick prisoners stayed behind and were liberated by Russian troops on May 9.) Days passed slowly as the men struggled along in eight groups of 500;airmen were hesitant to drink from nearby streams or even relieve themselves for fear of retaliation by guards' rifle butts and bayonets. Feet crammed into worn-out leather boots or camp-issued wooden clogs, swelled, bled, and blistered - food remained scarce. Finally, after more than three weeks on the march, American forces liberated the POWs on May 3, 1945.

The Stalag XVII-B Reunion Dinner has been held each May 3 in joyous celebration of that liberation.

As I look back at the evening and the stories of the living hell they lived through, some for up to two years, I realized that I've really never had a bad day in my life and these men deserve every bit of gratitude a nation can give. At nights end, I made sure to thank each of them for not only their service and sacrifices, but for also creating the Air Force that I wanted to join and be a part of for 25 years now.

Never miss the opportunity to thank a vet and especially the few WWII heroes this nation has remaining.

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4. Meet with an A&H Flooring, LLC manufactured trained associate to discuss optional
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