- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

Surviving under German and Japanese captors required daily courage and a little luck, a group of former POWs said yesterday.

Richard Francies, 87, a former Army Signal Corps radio operator, said he was so dizzy from sickness during the Bataan Death March that he broke ranks just to sit in a field, fully expecting to be bayoneted or shot at any time.

“I did something very foolish,” Mr. Francies said.

Instead of being killed, Mr. Francies was found by a Filipino man who notified a Japanese medic. The medic gave Mr. Francies a shot, then escorted him back to the guards.

“That shot probably saved my life,” said Mr. Francies, adding that the guards were “a little upset” with the medic.

His story of survival and courage was one of many retold yesterday during a panel discussion at this weekend’s National World War II Reunion on the Mall.

Army veterans Marty Higgins and Jimmy Kanaya and fighter pilot Miguel Encinias were held in German prison camps during the latter stages of the war.

Mr. Higgins recalled the forced marches and how prisoners would eat whatever they could find along the way — including potatoes stolen from a pig trough.

“We got diarrhea, dysentery, the works,” said Mr. Higgins, 88, a cavalryman before joining the infantry in 1944. He said life inside the prison camp was almost as bad because eight men has to split a loaf of bread and the soup had bugs in it.

Mr. Kanaya, 83, said the worst part of being a prisoner was being “at the mercy” of German captors.

He said the prisoners survived by maintaining their discipline instead of dwelling on the beatings and the hunger.

“Our camp was so organized,” he said. “Our senior officers commanded the troops like we were still on active duty.”

Mr. Encinias, 81, was sent to Frankfurt, Germany, after being shot down in his British Spitfire over northern Italy in 1944.

Mr. Encinias, who later flew 111 missions during the Korean War, said recreation at the camp consisted of walking around the compound, looking up at the guards and thinking about food. He said the shortage was so bad that the German guards also went hungry.

Soviet liberators did little to help them return to safety near the end of the war, Mr. Encinias added.

“The Russians were shooting every German man they came to,” he said. “Every single man.”

Neither Mr. Encinias nor Mr. Higgins waited for the shooting to stop. Like many other Americans liberated by the Russians, they slipped away. Mr. Higgins said he did so disguised in a British uniform and French beret.

The audience yesterday listened raptly to the men’s stories while a Library of Congress film crew recorded the event for a Webcast.

Richard C. Miller, who survived a Germany prison, arrived at the event with granddaughter Susan Miller and two other family members a half hour early to get good seats.

“Americans can always keep up their spirits,” Mr. Miller, 80, said of his time at Nuremburg and other camps. “We never got down too much.”

Mr. Miller, a turret gunner whose bomber was shot down in 1944, said POWs would play basketball, baseball and bridge to maintain their morale.

“It’s so unbelievable,” said Miss Miller, who this month received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois. “I clearly haven’t heard enough of my grandfather’s stories.”

Other panels yesterday featured Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, actor Ossie Davis, and “60 Minutes” TV host Mike Wallace.

Reunion attendees yesterday said they enjoyed the second day of festivities.

“It’s more pleasant today,” said Dye Ogata, 87, a Purple Heart recipient who journeyed from California. As a Japanese-American who was an Army translator and interrogator in the Pacific, Mr. Ogata said he tried not to look like the enemy. “That was hard,” he said.

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