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Iron Mountain VA set to recognize surviving war prisoners

The Iron Mountain-based VA medical center will be observing this day with a special luncheon for residents of its Community Living Center, as well as sending a care package to each of the three local surviving former POWs it serves.
(KOTA)
Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 5:03 PM EDT
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IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. (Press Release/WLUC) - The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center will recognize three local heroes who were prisoners of war in conjunction with the National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, September 18.

The Iron Mountain-based VA medical center will be observing this day with a special luncheon for residents of its Community Living Center, as well as sending a care package to each of the three local surviving former POWs it serves. The care package includes a warm POW/MIA fleece sweater, ball cap, and pin, as well as letters of recognition from the medical center director and local congressional representatives.

In the past the medical center has honored the former POWs with a formal ceremony and special luncheon; however, due to COVID-19 precautions, this year’s ceremony was canceled.

Since the outbreak of World War I, more than 142,000 American service men and women were captured and held as POWs. Today, less than 20,000 are still living. “They endured uncertainties, deprivations, and hardships of hostile captivity; something that very few Americans can relate to,” said Jim Rice, medical center director. “However, we are extremely grateful and indebted to these heroes.”

There are three of these heroes that the facility will recognize this year:

  • Mr. John Kusmitch, of Kingsford, served in the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division during the Korean War. He was captured during the Spring Offensive in April 1951, when the 700,000 strong Chinese People’s Volunteer Army attacked UN forces in hopes of driving them off the Korean peninsula.
  • Mr. John Moddie of Quinnesec, served with the Army’s 590th Field Artillery and was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. He has had the experience of being lined up with other POWs in front of German machine guns, but fortunately the guns were not fired.
  • Robert Smith, of Hartland, Wisc. served with the U.S Army’s, 4th Armored Division. Smith was captured, along with others from his company, on Good Friday 1945 during a POW rescue mission. Smith was 18 at the time of his capture and spent 33 days as a POW before the camp was liberated.

“We also take this time to remember those who remain unaccounted for,” Rice says. Of whom, there remain over 82,000. “No group of civilians has given more than the loved ones of those who never came home and remained missing in action.”

A short biography of each of the former POWs is found below.

John Kusmitch, U.S Army, 25th Infantry Division

Captured April 1951 during Korean Conflict, Spring Offensive

Mr. John Kusmitch, an 89-year-old veteran and native of Kingsford, MI, was only 20 years old when he was captured while fighting in the Korean Conflict. Kusmitch enlisted in the United States Army in August 1949 at the age of 18. He served in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division as a motor transport operator and was responsible for supervising and operating vehicles to transport personnel and cargo. The motor transport operators were the backbone of the Army’s support and sustainment structure, providing advanced mobility on and off the battlefield. He was only in the Army for two short years before he was taken prisoner of war.

Kusmitch was captured during the Spring Offensive of April 1951 when the 700,000-strong Chinese People’s Volunteer Army attacked UN forces in hopes of driving them off the Korean peninsula. He was captured, along with 15 to 20 others in his group, and spent over 27 months as a POW enduring harsh conditions. The POW camp that he stayed in was eight miles away from the Chinese border. After he left the Army, he worked as a construction worker in Chicago.

John Moddie, US Army, 590th Field Artillery Unit

Captured December 1944 during WWII, Battle of the Bulge

Mr. John Moddie enlisted in the U.S. Army right after graduating from Niagara High School. He was assigned to the 590th Field Artillery Unit and shipped overseas to Germany. He fought for three months and remembers truckloads of shells and being part of a big push of eight to 10 divisions. That “big push” turned out to be the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of the war, fought from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945. It would be the second-most lethal American battle with more than 19,000 Americans killed.

Moddie received shrapnel wounds during the battle and, along with 20 to 25 others, was captured on December 19, 1944. At the time of capture, the German soldiers took them into a fenced-in yard. The next morning, they were marched through dense fog and over soggy ground for three days. Those who stumbled or could not keep up were shot and left to die alone in the mud. They eventually arrived at a rail yard and were packed into box cars, where Moddie and his fellow soldiers stood for three days while being transported. The train stopped at Stalag 9-B camp in Bad Orb located in central Germany. He spent four and a half months as a POW enduring harsh conditions that would see him wither from 150 pounds to only about 85 pounds. One time during his imprisonment, Moddie was lined up with other POWs in front of German machine guns but fortunately the officer in charge changed his mind and the guns were not fired.

Moddie and the other soldiers awoke one morning to an empty camp with the gates open. The Germans had evacuated during the night rather than be found in the POW camp by the Allied forces. He and the other survivors were flown to a camp in France on a plane called Lucky Strike. He spent a month in a hospital at Fort Hood, Texas.

Moddie spent a year in business college and “had a lot of different jobs” over the decades since the war. He worked at a paper mill in Green Bay before moving back home, settling in construction as a career.

Robert Smith, U.S Army, 4th Armored Division

Captured April 1945 during a POW rescue mission

Mr. Robert Smith graduated from high school on June 5, 1944, and entered the service on August 23, 1944. He was assigned to Company C, 4th Armored Division as a tank crew member. His company was sent to free POWs in a German POW camp. When they crossed the Rhine River, the Germans were waiting for them and took out most of their tanks, including Smith’s. He ended up advancing on foot with the infantry soldiers. Smith was captured, along with others from his company, on Good Friday 1945. They were loaded on box cars Easter Sunday for transport to Stalag 7A, Germany’s largest POW camp located in Moosburg, Germany. At the time of its liberation, the camp held 76,248 prisoners hailing from every allied nation. The trip to Stalag 7A took two weeks during which he lost 22 pounds. Smith was 18 at the time of his capture and spent 33 days as a POW before the camp was liberated.

Smith held multiple jobs after he left the Army including at local gas stations, an antique store, and a bank. He really enjoyed his job being a bank teller in Hartland, Wisconsin and stayed in finances for the rest of his career.

For more information, please contact John Jamison, public affairs officer, at john.jamison1@va.gov, or 906-774-3300, ext. 32018.

Iron Mountain VA Press release, 2020. Copyright 2020 WLUC. All rights reserved.

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