May 12, 2004: Headlines: COS - Czech Republic: Writing - Czech Republic: POWs: History: WWII: Times Citizen: Czech Republic RPCV Michael Luick-Thrams tells story of the horrors of being a prisoner of war

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Czech Republic: The Peace Corps in the Czech Republic: May 12, 2004: Headlines: COS - Czech Republic: Writing - Czech Republic: POWs: History: WWII: Times Citizen: Czech Republic RPCV Michael Luick-Thrams tells story of the horrors of being a prisoner of war

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Czech Republic RPCV Michael Luick-Thrams tells story of the horrors of being a prisoner of war

Czech Republic RPCV Michael Luick-Thrams tells story of the horrors of being a prisoner of war

Czech Republic RPCV Michael Luick-Thrams tells story of the horrors of being a prisoner of war

Remembering POWs from World War II

By:Kent Thompson , Managing Editor 05/12/2004

Caption: from left to right: John C. Fitzpatrick, HI Board of Directors Vice President, Dr. Michael Luick -Thrams, and HI Executive Director, Dr. Chris Rossi

IOWA FALLS - Few can imagine or even want to imagine the horrors of being a prisoner of war.

"It is important and indeed essential that we do remember," said Michael Luick-Thrams.

Upon first glance, Luick-Thrams appears to be an unlikely messenger of the prisoner of war story from inside Nazi territory in World War II Europe. Looking much younger than his years, Luick-Thrams grew up on an Iowa farm, but his interest was in history and historical migration.

After student teaching for a year in New York (1990-91), Luick-Thrams worked in San Francisco in battered women's and homeless shelters, soup kitchens and AIDs clinics before volunteering for the Peace Corps.

Two years in then-Czechoslovakia, beginning in July 1991, was a life-changing experience that helped him on his current quest of telling the story of Midwest POWs. Only 18 months after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Luick-Thrams found a poor, desolate Czech landscape, littered with the remnants of industrial pollution and Communist state-supported poverty.

He was able to travel to Israel, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Vienna, Greece and Turkey. In 1993, he moved to Berlin, where he completed a doctoral project at Humboldt University entitled, "Creating 'New Americans: WW II-Era European Refugees' Formation of American Identities." He also wrote a book, "Out of Hitler's Reach," documenting Scattergood Hostel, an abandoned Quaker boarding school in Iowa, where 185 refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe found a new life.

Since that time, he has worked as a historian, writer and lecturer, telling stories about Scattergood Hostel and other personal histories around the world.

The Upper Midwest has unique connections to the World War II European-theater prisoner of war (POW) experience. They occurred during the Third Reich. The first U.S. troops sent to Europe came from the Iowa-based 34th "Red Bull" Division. This division consisted of men from Iowa, the Dakotas and Minnesota. They served for more than 600 days, which was the longest uninterrupted duty of any U.S. unit in the history of the U.S. Army. About 2,000 soldiers from the 34th Division were captured in North Africa in February of 1943 by German Afrikakorps troops, led by Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Later, pilots were shot down during air raids over Germany. More Midwest POWs were added when the Battle of Bulge took place in December 1944.

Despite the uniqueness of this legacy, virtually no one is aware of the special role Midwest soldiers played in the larger U.S. WWII experience. "This is a disadvantage as we witness yet another cycle of global war and conflict: we forget what our ancestors experienced; we fail to learn from those experiences and apply whatever lessons they might offer us today," Luick-Thrames said.

"These are the last traces of these histories. When these guys are gone, the histories are gone with them," he said. That's why he started TRACES, a non-profit educational organization to bring the stories to life through the creation of its BUS-eum-a 40-foot school bus converted into a mobile museum.

The exhibit came to Iowa Falls April 18, and has visited other area communities, including Hampton and Grundy Center. It consists of narrative display panels illustrated with photographs and documents, audio and DVD documentaries, artifacts and other information to bring the stories of Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany to life.

The bus exhibit "Behind Barbed Wire: Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany," will tour all Iowa counties this spring and 11 other Midwestern states in the coming years.

Luick-Thrams said the purpose of the exhibit is to help answer five questions.

(1.) Why did some Midwest POWs survive certain conditions or experiences, while others did not?

(2.) What roles did art, free time, and religion play in helping those men who did survive imprisonment by the Nazi regime?

(3.) Why did some Germans or Austrians assist U.S. POWs, while others did not?

(4.) How did the liberated POWs later come to terms with their own experiences?

(5.) How do nations and the individuals who constitute a nation come to reconciliation?

One man's account

One of the POW survivors was Frank Sanache, a Meskwaki Native American who was one of eight Meskwaki "code talkers" who served in Northern Africa with the 34th Division of the 168th Infantry during World War II.

While the Navajo tribe was featured in a recent movie, "Wind Talkers," there were actually 19 Native American tribes that were trained in talking in codes using their native languages - codes that were never broken by the Germans.

"There were only eight Meskwaki code talkers covering the African and Italian campaigns and they could have used several hundred," Don Wanatee Sr. said. Wanatee from the Meskwaki settlement in Tama, is Sanache's son. He was in Iowa Falls for the museum bus stop.

"Through the Meskwaki language, their codes were able to help scout for German artillery batteries. He told the commanders where enemy movements were through the code. He was sent out about two miles ahead of the troops in dangerous conditions. The scouts would work 24-hour shifts," Wanatee said.

Sanache called the duty in the African desert, "the worst place this side of hell."

"He was captured in Tunisia in February 1943, when Rommel's Afrikakorps overran the Allied resistance. He was left in the desert with three or four other guys with no water or food. It was either surrender or be shot," Wanatee said..

"He was flown to Italy and then taken by train to Poland and Germany. He was given a daily ration of two boiled potatoes, a cup of soup, a glass of water and a slice of bread," Wanatee said.

"He was basically sentenced to a slave labor camp unloading supplies of lime and coal from rail cars at a POW camp in Hammerstein. The work left his lungs scarred. He is 87 today and has to go to the VA Hospital in Des Moines twice a week for blood transfusions. He suffers from chronic pneumonia and other problems relating to his encampment," Wanatee said. "After 29 months in captivity, he was nothing but a bag of bones. He was ill and suffering from malnutrition, but he survived.

"This is an important exhibit because it makes Americans aware of what World War II vets experienced. I think all POWs should receive a Purple Heart for what they went through and for those that didn't make it back, their families should be given one," Wanatee said.

Wantee hopes that his father's ill health will not prevent him from attending a recognition of the code talkers at the National Indian Museum in Washington, D.C., in September.

Sanache's story is one of many revealed in the display. About 90 people toured the bus during its 2 1/2-hour stop in Iowa Falls.

Luick-Thrams has received support from a number of organizations and individuals. In addition to the POW bus, there are several other historical and educational components to TRACES. People wanting to make tax-deductible contributions to the non-profit organization may send checks to: TRACES, in care of Michael Luick-Thrams, executive director, 4810 Ingersoll No. 1, Des Moines, IA 50312. People can visit the Web site at:

©Iowa Falls Times-Citizen 2004

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Story Source: Times Citizen

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Czech Republic; Writing - Czech Republic; POWs; History; WWII



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