Because the U.S. military has only been involved in limited actions in the last sixty years, we don’t read many reports in our local newspapers about service members who have been injured, or tragically been killed in those conflicts. However, during World War II, and particularly in the Athens Review, there were many notices and reports about local military men (and a few women) as they traveled, were injured or sadly, even killed. And since it was a world war there were many thousands in uniform to report on so readers of the Review and other local newspapers eagerly scanned the news for reports on their family and friends. And aside from infrequent letters or calls from the front sometimes those newspaper reports were the only way to keep informed. And occasionally the news wasn’t about an injury, or even a death - but a capture as a prisoner of war. And when this occurred then the family and friends who waited and longed for news could only wait… and pray.
The news was good for the family of an Athens family in June 1945 when Mr. and Mrs. Fred Pugh heard their son Fred Jr. was among 85 men who had been liberated by British forces in Burma. According to the report, the men were rescued after a 50 -mile forced march from their Burmese prison to where their Japanese captors, knowing of the advancing British army, turned the prisoners loose.
“Mostly Air Corps personnel, all vividly recall the indignities, starvation, filth and disease they suffered at the hands of their ...jailers,” said the report. One released prisoner recalled how one New Year’s Eve their captors lined them up, beat them with clubs made of pick handles and he was beaten because he had not stood at attention when the guard brought his food. The beatings, he added, weren’t so bad when their captors were sober, but when they were drunk - “it was hell.”
Corporal Pugh, who had had been listed as MIA since March 1944, wrote his parents that he had gained 14 pounds in 11 days and hoped to be released at any time.
You can read additional stories about some of the colorful individuals interred at the Athens Cemetery by visiting our website at www.athenstxcemetery.com and following the links for Yearly Newsletters and/or Cemetery News.
Story provided by local historian, Anne Adams