I believe that all of the veterans who served in World War II are heroes but I am only addressing one area of that War, one group of distinguished individuals: Those brave Allied Airmen who were shot down over enemy territory, captured by the Germans, and became Prisoners of War. This group of men probably are the least written about and the least read about “soldiers” of World War II. I chose this area of focus because it personally effects me. My father, John R. Kyler, served in the 8th Air Force in England as a B-17 ball turret gunner who was captured and became a prisoner of war for 15 months.
All POWs had a story to tell and some were fortunate enough to live to tell it. Some, though, took their stories with them to the grave, when their plane was hit and they died instantly, or when they died trying to “bail out,” or sometimes they were killed while attempting to escape German captivity. Many of those who survived terrible atrocities kept their stories buried in their memories, because their experiences were too painful to recall. Those who were able to remember such painful memories have helped carry on the legacy of the many who died, and even the many who survived but could never bring themselves to talk about what they had endured.
It is absolutely critical to future generations that all of us remember this generation of heroes. It was a generation of the most patriotic and selfless individuals. It was a period of time when many gave of themselves no matter the cost. It was a generation appropriately deemed “the Greatest Generation.”
I am sorry and even a little ashamed that it has taken me so long to absorb and appreciate the stories of those who made our lives today relatively secure from tyranny. My father was one of the men who helped with that effort, and I have been inspired to discover, research and tell his story. Sadly, my interest was not aroused until after his death, when for the first time I took a real interest in just who my father was and what he had done in World War II. As I studied, the questions that arose could not be answered by my father. So I vowed to research and retrace his path through the War so I could piece together his story as best I could – without his help. I wish that every person, every hero, had someone to chronicle his history. Each and every one of these men deserves to be remembered and recognized; thus, the reason for this web site. My father is a very personal symbol of this group of heroes, and it is my hope that by helping others learn about and remember the stories of my father and those he served with, the memory of all of the heroes who sacrificed for us in WWII will be preserved for posterity.
My approach was, first, to parallel my father’s journey through his war by traveling where he traveled during a very dangerous time and to tell about these places that we have now been. I say “we” because his presence has been felt by me every step of the way. It could not have been a more rewarding experience for me to walk through the places in Europe that he walked as a young man from his Station in Podington, England, to the crash site and area where he landed by parachute in Belgium; through a period of interrogation and then the really difficult period: The three camps where he was interned in Lithuania, Poland and Germany. This journey has been documented and memorialized by me in my 2010 book, “What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father.”