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WWII veteran tells tale of courage

May 10, 2011
Kylie Saari , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - "Courage. What makes a king out of a slave? Courage. What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage."

- The Cowardly Lion

Martin Luther High School students got a chance this week to learn about courage, connect current events with history and support the elderly, all in one shot.

Article Photos

Chuck King told a crowd of Martin Luther High School students and fellow residents at Goldfinch Estates his story of being a POW in WWII. The presentation was part of Homes for the Aging Week, which Goldfinch is celebrating with a Wizard of Oz theme. Monday’s theme was courage.

Juniors visited Goldfinch Estates Monday afternoon to hear the story of Chuck King, a former WWII prisoner of war.

Goldfinch is celebrating Home for the Aging Week, a national celebration of senior communities.

The theme for the week is the Wizard of Oz, and each day promotes an attribute from one of the characters. Monday's focus was on courage.

Activities director Marilyn Oelke said she was looking for a courage activity when King invited her to his apartment to show her something.

"It was a file folder of letters from students at a high school in Arizona Chuck had given a presentation to," she said. "Every letter had the word courage in it."

She asked 90-year-old King if he would give his presentation again, and he agreed.

Finding himself 19-years-old at the start of the WWII draft, King joined up and was off to what was supposed to be one year of service to his country.

After attending boot camp, he was preparing to go home for Christmas on furlough when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and changed the course of his life.

Instead of a white Christmas, he got shipped to Ireland, where he received further training before his deployment to northern Africa.

His mission was going so well his group was sent further inland, where they encountered a group of German soldiers.

"There we were fired on by the Germans," he said. "We only had 50 or so men. We never had a chance."

King spent nine months in a POW camp in northern Italy, when he heard rumors Americans had landed in southern Italy. Knowing it would make their captors nervous, the POWs had to take action if they were to escape.

Contriving a ladder from bed slats and torn sheets, the group escaped and separated. King spent months in the mountains of Italy, begging food from peasants.

In an attempt to escape the mountains, King was captured again, but this time it was by American Military Police.

He was sent home before being deployed again, until sniper fire ended his military career.

King told the students it took him 5.5 years to complete his one year of military service.

In addition to the Martin Luther students, other Goldfinch residents attended the presentation, many of whom had questions for King at the end of his story. King also pointed out a fellow resident who served as a military nurse in WWII, and she told the students a bit of her story.

The presentation is particularly apt at this time, according to Goldfinch manager Erin Maidl, since the community is preparing to send off troops this weekend to training before they are shipped overseas to the Middle East.

"It is history tied with current events," she said.

Home for the Aging Week is intended to shed light on the services senior communities provide.

The residents will continue the Wizard of Oz theme throughout the week, with an Aunty Em-themed tea today and brain teasers on Wednesday. On Thursday they will prepare care packages for military children to illustrate the Tin Man's heart, and there will be a little munchkins dance performance by Borchardt dancers.

Maidl said the residents are looking forward to preparing the care packages because they know, perhaps more than other generations, what war is like.

Having served or knowing others who served in WWII, these senior citizens also had children who served during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Now, their grandchildren are fighting in the Middle East.

"They understand," Maidl said.



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