Holiday Honors WWII Veterans
Ed Fergon battled the Germans in the skies in the summer of 1943.
"On the fifth mission, we got shot down. We were flying over Kiel, Germany. The 109's (German fighter planes) came right at us, firing their guns," Fergon said, mimicking the sound of machine gun fire.
The Germans shot out the engine of the B-17 that he navigated, killing two crew members.
Fergon, 87, a Bermuda Dunes, Calif., resident said the Germans captured he and the
remaining crew and took them to a little hospital for treatment, he said. They were then sent to Frankfort to be interrogated, where they spent 10 days in solitary confinement. After giving the interrogators a false squadron number and they were released and transferred to Stalag Luft III.
The Luftwaffe - the German air force - treated Ergon prisoners during his 21 months in captivity, minus the 10 days he spent in the cooler (solitary confinement) for saying 'Berlin kaput' one day upon hearing Allies bombing Berlin.
The stress took its toll on the POW
Although he suffered no physical harm, he called imprisonment maddening. "I went crazy over there, really," Fergon said.
He said he tried to keep himself busy. There was a library, athletic field, baseball, basketball - the POWs even built an ice rink.
He slept in a barracks with 12 men to a room and bunk beds three stacks high.
Fergon slept on the bottom bunk. The beds were simply boards with straw, no springs.
Food was limited. The men received Red Cross parcels containing food like Spam and sugar flower.
The horror of Fergon's experience followed him stateside, tormenting his mind and greatly stressing his relationship with his wife, JoAnn, who he proposed to a day after returning home. I was a mess," he said. "I wasn't a normal person."
He was quiet - like most World War II vets were, he said - and found it hard to communicate to his family about his experiences. "I never talked a thing about it when I got home," he said.
After years of suffering, he visited the Veterans Administration in 1990 and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - a type of anxiety disorder that occurs after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event.
With counseling - and the help of daily antidepressants - he's faring better, he said.
Fergon's story appears in the pages of Tom Brokaw's 2001 book, "An Album of Memoirs: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation."
It's one of Fergon's proudest accomplishments, he said.