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Former POW to share his story

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(PUBLISHED Saturday, April 29, 2000)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — On April 29, 1944, 24-year-old 1st Lt. David J. Purner fought for his life in the skies above Berlin as his B-24 "Liberator" was shot down by Germany's air force, or Luftwaffe. As he jumped, Purner became entangled in the aircraft's nose wheel and pinned against the side of the spinning aircraft. Five members of the 10-man crew were killed, and just when death seemed inevitable for Purner, the plane exploded at 1,000 feet.

"Luckily I was blown clear," the Johnson City resident said. "My parachute opened, and the Lord saved me that day. But I lost my boots in the slipstream, a tremendous force rushing up the belly of the aircraft, and it ripped the boots off my feet. I landed in my socks and was wounded with shrapnel in my left leg and left foot. I wasn't in the best shape, but I managed to evade capture for three days."

On the third day, however, Purner began a year-long ordeal as a prisoner of war.

"Civilians captured me, and that was not a pleasant situation," said Purner, who served with the 576th Bomb Squadron, 392nd "Crusaders" Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, during World War II.

"One of my gunners was with me, and we were beaten. They had a rope around my neck, and we had resigned to the fact that we were going to be hung. Two older German men armed with Luger pistols managed to persuade the young hotheads in charge of that mob that we should be held for military interrogation. I would have given $500 to have seen a uniform at that time, because civilians are very hard to deal with."

Over the next year, Purner was sent to three German POW camps and survived two forced marches. On April 29, 1945 — one year to the day from when Purner's B-24 was shot down — the Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton liberated the POW camp at Mooseburg, Germany, where Purner and many others were barely hanging on.

"I weighed 95 pounds — that's skin and bones — when Patton liberated the camp," Purner said. "It was a very traumatic experience. You were in solitary confinement. You had a cup of water and a slice of bread in the morning, then plenty of time to worry and think about what was going to happen.

"I was concerned about my wife and family, because I knew she would be getting a missing-in-action telegram. I was concerned about my crew, because I didn't know what had happened to them. And I was worried as hell about me."

Statistics show that 142,256 Americans were captured and interned during World War I, World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars. In 1997, an estimated 58,832 of those POWs were still living.

Purner plans to share his story today and Sunday with fellow veterans during the American Ex-Prisoners of War State Convention at the Garden Plaza Hotel, 211 Mockingbird Lane.

"For 35 years, I couldn't talk about this situation," he said. "It was very traumatic and it would just bring tears. I have grown sons who never heard my story until recently. I had one-on-one therapy for eight years. They got me to the point that . . . I feel a responsibility to go into the schools and talk to young people, from grade school through college.

"I want to keep public awareness up to a respectable level so that we never, ever forget the many sacrifices it took to guarantee the American liberties and freedoms that we enjoy and take for granted today."

Story Copyright © 2000-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson City Press,
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

596th Signal Support Co., 97th Signal Battalion
47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
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