“Freedom is one of the greatest treasures”. These are the words of Ed Prather, a World War II veteran. Mr. Prather and many others like him strove to make sure that freedom would remain treasured and not become a long lost memory. True stories of hope and courage are found all over the world, but nowhere do they ring truer that in the hearts and minds of America’s soldiers.
Ed Prather was born in Nebraska in 1921, where he lived until his tenth grade year. He completed his last three years of high school in Hubble Nebraska and graduated in 1939 with a class of seven. He was drafted at the age of twenty-one, which made him one of the older soldiers fighting in the war. He said he didn’t enlist in the service because he felt “if they need me, they’ll come and get me”. He received his first training in the army air force and infantry bases. At the time, the air force was still a part of the army and had not yet been separated.
On December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mr. Prather was working on the Santa Anita Racetrack. None of these men will forget where they were on the day that will “go down in infamy”. While he believes that Pearl Harbor was very tragic, Mr. Prather thinks September 11, 2001 was significantly worse. The men at Pearly Harbor knew there was a chance they would die when they enlisted in the armed forces. The people that were killed on September 11th were completely innocent and were only killed because they happened to work in one of the twin towers.
Mr. Prather was stationed in Ted Forder’s company, under Colonel Scales in the 2nd battalion, 422nd infantry, 106th division. When he left the army, he had reached Buck Sergeant. He received his first training at Camp Kerns in Utah. He stated that his infantry training wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t hard. There he learned to dig out fox holes, shoot people, how to use a bayonet, and how to pitch a tent.
There were many bad experiences during the war, but Mr. Prather believes one of the worst was when he was taken prisoner. His division was sent to England and taken captive on December 21, 1944. They were one of the last divisions that were activated and, because of their lack in training, the Germans overwhelmed them. They were packed in extremely tight quarters and forced to walk 35 miles in a day without food or water. When they finally were given food, for the first time on the 25th, it was only Limburger cheese and bread. The men became so hungry that on one occasion a few of them swarmed around a woman in order to get the potatoes she was carrying. Mr. Prather believes “the worst thing [they] faced was starvation because [they couldn’t] fight back”.
For four months Mr. Prather and the men in his division were held hostage. They were interrogated and locked in different prison camps. One night, while they were locked in a box car two P-51 fighter planes flew over from Germany and shot at the line of box cars. Many men died; the rest were marched to a different location. They were forced to walk for 45 days straight through towns that had been bombed and through the people that were starving because of the bombing. As they walked through they saw that these people were very angry at the prisoners of war. When they began their march, they had 1800 men; after the 45 days, they had less than 1000 men left. He doesn’t know exactly what happened to the men, but some of them probably died and the others might have gone to work somewhere else. At the first camp they came to, they had to stand the whole time during the time there. The Germans kept moving them around because the Russians kept coming to free them. By the time they reached Czechoslovakia, he had lost 30 pounds. Five of them finally escaped around April 1945, but they could not walk along any roads because they would be shot.
On the subject of dropping the atomic bomb, Mr. Prather wishes that it didn’t have to be done, but knows that it was the right thing to do. Hundreds more people would have been killed if the bomb hadn’t been drooped. When asked what he thinks was gained from World War II, he replied with a few things. First, democracy was established in many parts of the world that needed help very badly and freedom was given to many people. Second, America, along with the world, learned that it could adjust to bad circumstances. The depression would follow the war and Americans could adjust to that as well.
Mr. Prather retired from the service in 1945. For two or three years, he drifted from one thing to another because he was still getting used to regular life after the war. He was married in 1950 and they had one daughter, but because of personal circumstances, he and his wife divorced. By 1951, he remarried to his wife now of 51 years. It took him a little while to get back into the swing of things after the war. Prisoners of war were not only disrespected, but looked down upon. Back then, it wasn’t acceptable to be a prisoner of war. Now they are given respect they deserve along with medical treatment and financial aid. He can enjoy his life now, but it is sad to see America in war. Now at the age of 82, Mr. Prather lives in an RV/ Trailer Park in Beaumont, California with his wife, Peggy. He doesn’t doubt war with Iraq or something brewing in North Korea. It is sad to say that the people we are facing now might make Hitler look a little better.