In his still-affected hands and feet, Charles Vogel bears a daily reminder of the year and 14 days he spent in the Stalag 17B German Prisoner of War Camp in Krems, Austria.
His extremities were damaged by the bitter cold as he shared barracks built for 240 with thousands of other captured airmen.
He still remembers the weeks-long, 281-mile forced march across Austria as Russian forces closed in on the camp that began 65 years ago. The men slept wherever they could and ate whatever they could find, including grass.
"I swiped a chicken one night and slept on it all night so I could cook it the next morning," Vogel said. "It was the toughest chicken I ever ate."
The prisoners were eventually rescued from the Germans by Gen. George S. Patton's men.
It is to the memory of Vogel's service, the service of the 900 survivors of Stalag 17B and the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives for the country that the American Former Prisoners of War gathered Sunday for a prayer ceremony.
Vogel, who lives in Colorado with his new wife of one year, Anita, drove to Myrtle Beach for a reunion marking the rescue, the first he has attended.
It also might be the last, he said.
"We're all old now - in our late 80s and early 90s," Vogel said. "Many of us are not in good health."
But that didn't stop the men who could make it - along with wives, widows, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends - from getting together for the memorial service in the Hall of Heroes at Ocean Dunes Resort in Myrtle Beach.
Chaplain Robert Lash delivered the message to the nearly 100 people gathered that he shared the former POWs' experience and well remembers living in the camp. He also remembers the day they were liberated.
"Remember seeing that Army tank with the star on the side? I thought 'maybe I'll get the chance to make it home now.' Remember how cold it was? And that first night of freedom, we slept on the ground, if we slept at all, with one blanket, and woke up with frost on us?" he said. "How wonderfully blessed we are to have had 65 years of liberation."
Lash said the memorial was for the young men who "didn't live to gather memories like we did." He said he often thinks about what the country missed by not having those 400,000 young minds lost in the war working for the good of the nation.
He also praised the military wives who "took care of us broken down individuals as we came home. They don't often get the acclaim."
The somber service prompted some tears in the audience as people remembered those they had lost.
Lamar Rodgers explained a display at the back of the room that symbolized The Fallen Comrade.
A dinner table is set for one, with a yellow rose for remembrance and a red ribbon for the blood shed as soldiers fought for the country.
"The glass is inverted and the chair is empty, because they cannot be here with us," Rodgers said.
Each former prisoner of war, including Vogel, sat in for a group photo to commemorate the reunion, and each received a commemorative coin to keep with him to serve as a reminder of service and his blessings, Lash said.
"Hopefully, we can say we made this a better world for our kids, our grandkids and our great-grandkids," Lash said.
"It was worth it all. I'm so proud to be one of you."
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