Former POW to share his story
By Vincent Z. Whaley
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
"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
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
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."
© 2000-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605,
All rights reserved. This material may not
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