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Odell Myers, Pilot
438 Squadron, 319th Medium Bombardment Group
12th USAAF

World events culminating in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed my priorities. My orders to report for pilot training in the United States Army Air Corps arrived the following day-December 8, 1941.

On December 4, 1942, my B26B medium bomber was shot down in Tunisia. I was captured, hospitalized and finally sent to a permanent POW camp in Italy.

Until then, I had taken freedom for granted. Upon losing it, freedom moved to the top of my priority list.

Awake or asleep, freedom dominated my thoughts! In one frequently recurring dream, I escaped, ran ahead of pursuing soldiers and desperately tried to reach my home. I always made it to the front porch, pounded on the door and cried It's me, Daddy, open the door! Hurry! Please hurry!

But my father never opened the door. Instead, the soldiers always rushed onto the porch, grabbed me and yelled Roll call! Roll call! Everybody out for roll call!

Then, like a paddle ball on a rubber band, I snapped back across thousands of miles from Texas to Italy, climbed down from my upper bunk and stumbled out to be counted on another day that looked exactly like yesterday and tomorrow never came.

Until September 8, 1943 when Italy surrendered to the Allies. The Italian soldiers simply disappeared. We were free. No Special Forces rushed to our rescue. No Medivac helicopters landed in the camp. No one mistook us for heroes. No Hollywood producers smelled money and offered us contracts. Instead, the Senior Allied POW officer issued an incredible order: Do not leave the camp. Anyone disobeying this order will be court-martialed!

Imagine our dilemma and the ensuing debate. While we debated, however, the Germans recaptured us and quickly moved us to a railhead for shipment to Germany.

At the risk of our lives, two friends and I escaped from a guarded camp, temporarily hid in an Italian village, then hiked over the mountains for about 100 miles toward freedom. We were recaptured, however, in the front lines and sent to a POW camp in Germany where we remained until liberated by Russian troops on May 1, 1945.

The freedom you and I now take for granted was won in WWII at the staggering cost of 60 to 70 million lives-friends and enemies. According to the latest U.S. census, that is approximately the same number of people living in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

I survived; many of my friends did not. I have seen the wounded, the dying, the dead, thousands of POWs and thousands of Russian soldiers who restored my freedom. I have seen hundreds of concentration camp prisoners for whom liberation came too late.

Following the pivotal battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln addressed the ages:

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

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