WWII POW recalls horror of captivity

wcrenshaw@macon.comSeptember 20, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Visitors to the Museum of Aviation over the past day may have noticed an unusual sight.

For 24 hours straight, ending at 3 p.m. Thursday, a relay team made up of military members and civilians ran continuously around the perimeter of the museum carrying a white on black flag.

The flag is a familiar symbol that honors prisoners of war and those missing in action. The relay ended just before a ceremony began at the museum in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which is officially Friday.

The keynote speaker at the ceremony was retired Army Sgt. First Class J.D. Lankford, a Georgia native who was held prisoner by the Germans during World War II.

Lankford, 89, delivered an impassioned speech with a reverberating voice about the meaning of freedom and how his faith helped him through his ordeal.

“I can tell you how it feels to have every human right in this world stripped from you. I can talk to you all day, and you still won’t understand it,” he said. “You think you do.”

Lankford was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and liberated by Gen. George Patton’s forces in 1945. He said the Germans gave a loaf of bread a day to be shared by 12 men, and other than that they subsisted on worms, grass, bugs and whatever else they could find.

“I know what you are thinking, ‘I could never eat a worm,’” he said. “Friend, you’ve never been hungry.”

When they came home, Lankford said he weighed 93 pounds, and those who had been held with him “looked like banjo strings.”

He wrote a book about growing up in the Depression in rural Georgia, then his experiences in war, which also included Korea. The book is called “Walk With Me.”

He works today as a veterans advocate.

He ended by talking about the words he spoke to some troops who were headed for Afghanistan.

“I don’t care what kind of weapon the military puts into your hand. ... You will never ever have the power that you’ve got in the power of prayer if you believe it,” he said. “Don’t tell me I don’t know, because I’m here.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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