Thursday, February 26, 2009

Article written by Pine River Times prior to our trip

In her father’s footsteps: Bayfield couple joins group enacting march from POW camp
By Melanie Brubaker Mazur
Times editor

If we whine about car problems or a slow economy or defiant children, we might want to consider the plight of Jim Gore.

At the end of World War II, the boy from Oxford, Colo. had been in a Nazi prisonor of war camp for nearly two years. As the Allied forces were advancing on the Nazis, the Germans started moving their POWs away from the front, jamming them into smaller camps.

Gore and his fellow POWs started their forced march at 11 p.m., on Jan. 27, 1945, marching 52 miles in the bitter winter cold, then they had a three-day train ride to Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany.

This week, Gore’s daughter and son-in-law, Evelyn and Kirk McLaughlin of Bayfield, are joining 14 other children of the prisoners of war in recreating that forced march of 52 miles. Gore was 27 at the time. Now he’s 92.

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The McLaughlins left yesterday on their trip, starting in Poland. The trip concludes Feb. 3. Jim Gore was in Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany, now in Poland, which was the basis for the movie, “The Great Escape.”

“I’m twice his age,” Evelyn McLaughlin said of her father’s forced march in 1945. “But I have better gear.”

McLaughlin started attending POW conventions with her father, which is where some of the children started toying with the idea of enacting their fathers’ march. Of the men they are honoring, three are still alive, including Gore.

“I’m just thrilled to pieces,” Gore said of his daughter’s decision to walk during the cold Polish winter. “What they’re doing is just remarkable. I’m grateful and proud.”

McLaughlin and her mother, Dorothy, joined Jim in a trip to Poland and Germany in 2005 to visit the camps where he was held. Then they started thinking about that freezing cold march, in skimpy uniforms and bad-fitting shoes.

“It’s not about us,” McLaughlin said this week before she left. “It’s honoring them and trying to keep their memory of what they did alive.”

The prisoners called themselves “kriegies,” playing on the German word for war, “krieg.” Several “kriegies” wanted to come along, but their age and ill health didn’t make it possible.

The 16 walkers range in age from 40 to 63. They’ve been profiled in a POW magazine and have received several calls and messages from World War II veterans wishing them luck. They know they’ll have it a lot easier than their dads. They’re walking 10 to 15 miles a day, staying in small inns along the way, and a bus is following and taking their gear.

While they have 16 people, McLaughlin said the Stalag camps were huge – her father’s had 10,000 men.

He had been in Stalag Luft III for a year and a half when they received orders to march on the cold January night. Ironically, they had been watching a production of “You Can’t Take it With You” when they received orders to march. Although Stalag III was a POW camp, it did have activities and the men were fed and clothed. Gore has told his daughter repeatedly that he knew he was one of the lucky ones.
A navigator on a B-17, Gore was shot down on his fifth mission over Germany, a bombing run on Hamburg. He was lucky he survived – the plane exploded, and he was blown out of the plane. He doesn’t remember pulling his parachute cord, but it opened, he swung once in the air, then hit the ground. He was picked up by German troops near Osnabruck, then taken to Stalag III.

During the forced march, they walked 35 miles in the first 27 hours, with little food and one four-hour stop in barns and stables. The first 2,000 men formed a column a mile long, tramping down the snow for the 8,000 men who followed behind. Eventually, the line of prisoners would stretch 20 miles. Gore’s group finally stopped and slept in a glass factory in Muskau for two days. Although they were sleeping on a concrete floor, the factory was heated, a relief for the exhausted prisoners. Hitler’s orders to march the POWs violated the Geneva Convention, which stated prisoners could not be marched more than 12.6 miles in 24 hours. That winter in Silesia, the region of Germany and Poland where they marched, was the coldest on record in 50 years.

McLaughlin said her father told her once that he fell over in the snow and didn’t want to go on.

“His roommate kicked him until he got up,” she said.

Gore said he still remembers the march vividly, and periodically talks about it with local high school students.

“The snowflakes were horizontal,” he said.

The McLaughlins started training seriously for the walk this summer, typically walking five miles three times a week. They walked the whole 53 miles in four days in December. Evelyn McLaughlin said she often walked with her friend, Debbie Janus. “She really stuck there with me,” she said.

Eventually, Gore was in a camp with 150,000 men that was designed to hold 40,000. He lost 50 pounds because there wasn’t enough to eat.

Finally liberated later that year, Jim Gore returned home and married his childhood sweetheart, Dorothy. They both taught for years in Durango schools. Evelyn said she always remembers her dad as a gentle man, but that he had the strength to make that march 64 years ago still amazes her.

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