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WWII POW Reflects on Soldiers Captured in Yugoslavia

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FAYETTEVILLE — There are more than 250 former prisoners of war in North Carolina; the new developments in Yugoslavia are bringing back memories for some of them.

World War II veteranVincent Fonke is keeping a close watch on the developments in Yugoslavia.

At the age of 22, his B-17 was shot down over Germany. He was a POW for ten months. Fifty-five years later, he remembers that time like it was yesterday.

"He took that cane and whopped the daylights out of me with it," Fonke says.

A first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps at the time, Fonke lost 40 pounds, but always thought he would make it home alive.

The retired Colonel believes the soldiers captured in Yugoslavia will also live to tell the tale.

"My heart goes out to those young fellows, but I know they are going to survive," he says. "That's what being a soldier is all about."

The 77-year-old still thinks about his crew often. One of his fellow soldiers was killed; he keeps in touch with the others, and with his feelings.

He believes the captured servicemen are feeling the same way he once did.

"I looked at those three young fellows and I could see myself with that dejected look," Fonke says. "I don't know, but maybe it's not dejected, but it's a surprised look, a feeling of not hopelessness but 'I've been lost for awhile.'"

While the experience brings back memories for Fonke and other former POWs, it brings a sense of helplessness to soldiers here at home.

"My heart went out to the soldiers and their families," says Fort Bragg soldier John Bustillos. "We all wish we were there to help them."

SomeFort Braggsoldiers say taking American prisoners is proof the Serbs will not give in. They say it is time to send in ground troops.

"They are not backing down, so I think we need to go over there and do what we need to do," says soldier Anthony Louis.

Ironically, Monday is POW-MIA commemoration day at Fort Bragg. The 18th Field Artillery Brigade is sponsoring a symposium with former POWs and soldiers.

They want the POWs to educate the soldiers on just what it is like to be a prisoner of war.


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