For more than 65 years, Vandalia native John Daniels, age 92, had never met anyone associated with the liberation of his POW camp in 1945.
Little did he know that some day one of the men who helped free him would be living under the same roof.
Daniels currently resides in the Mt. Vernon Veterans’ Home in Mt. Vernon, Mo.
Last summer, veteran Loy Sharon moved into the home and read a profile piece about Daniels, who has lived there since 2006, that appeared in the Home’s newsletter.
Sharon introduced himself and as the two talked about the war, Daniels noted that the Timberwolf Division, or 104th Infantry Division, played a part in his liberation.
Sharon later checked Daniels’ recollection with his book called “Timberwolf Tracks” and realized that he was with a group that helped to liberate and process Daniels who would have been in groups of 100-1,000 prisoners.
“I was very surprised,” Daniels said. “He’s the first and only person I’ve met that was connected with the situation.”
Daniels described those liberating him as those who were taller than six foot and Loy is 6’2”.
Though the two have moved past their talks on the war and enjoy talking about the St. Louis Cardinals instead, the initial discussions did bring up memories of a difficult time in Daniels’ life.
More on his life
Daniels was born on March 20, 1920 to Frank and Ione Daniels. He was the youngest of four and worked on his parents’ dairy farm just outside Vandalia and graduated from Vandalia High School in 1938.
He is the brother of the late Ina Mae Springman, Mildred Daniels, and Clayton Daniels. His sister-in-law Norma Daniels still resides in Vandalia.
He later moved to San Diego, Calif. to help build B-24’s before volunteering to be an aerial gunner. His crew trained on the B-26 Martin.
Daniels was a member of the 95th Bomber Squadron of the 17th Bomber Group. His group flew missions over northern Italy and southern France taking out enemy troop concentrations, fuel dumps, and bridges.
On his 30th mission, his plane was shot down over northern Italy. All five of his crew members escaped and he parachuted onto a mountain top into six foot snow.
Though an Italian nun hid him the first night, Germans followed his tracks and took him to the Gestapo office in Austria where he was interrogated and beaten.
After further questioning, he still refused to give up anything more than his name, rank, and serial number.
He was later taken to Stalag Luft IV in Tychowo, Prussia (now Poland).
When he didn’t receive Red Cross rations, Daniels had to eat parcels of black bread made of sawdust and marmalade that came from seasoned coal.
He endured the conditions for two months before being one of the unfortunate 6,000 POW’s who were ordered to take what is known as the German Death March or the Black March.
What was suppose to be a few days marching turned into 86 days while marching 600 miles.
During that time, Daniels, who once weighed 165 pounds, had liberated when weighing just 90 pounds. He survived on two to three potatoes per day in camp.
Unfortunately, the Red Cross could not access the route of the march and were unable to deliver rations. Boiled water was provided by captors but only enough to survive.
The march ended on May 2, 1945 near Hamburg. He recuperated for two months at Camp Lucky Strike in France.
Daniels was able to contact his mother Ione Daniels while a POW.
“I managed to get two cards out of prison camp,” he said.
Once liberated, Daniels remembers talking to his mom on the phone.
“I remember her taking that call,” he said. “There was a bad storm in Vandalia and lightning would strike on the line, she told me that a couple of times as the lightning knocked her down.”
The military sent Daniels to Fort Patrick Henry, Virginia before putting him on a nonstop train to the west coast where he received interrogations.
He was released to go be with his family for 60 days before heading back to Santa Monica, Calif.
Daniels served another 16 years which included helping to transport the injured to hospitals during the Korean Conflict. He retired from the Air Force until retiring in 1962 and later spent a year in Vietnam as a military advisor.
His wife passed away in 1994.