LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Stooped with age but still smiling and joking, three Colorado veterans who were taken prisoner by the German military in World War II got their medals Thursday, more than 70 years after they were liberated.
"It's overwhelming to me, to see this turnout," 89-year-old John Pederson said after a ceremony in suburban Denver before dozens of relatives, veterans and military personnel.
Pederson, 92-year-old Clayton Nattier and 89-year-old Keith Hereford each got eight medals, badges or pins for their service.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., helped arrange the decorations. The men were too busy in civilian life to pursue them sooner, he said.
"They just wanted to go home and get on with their lives," Perlmutter said.
Each received the Prisoner of War Medal. Pederson also received the Bronze Star, and Nattier and Hereford received the Purple Heart and Air Medal.
A brief look at the veterans' lives:
Hereford was a 19-year-old staff sergeant and a gunner on a B-17 bomber when the crew had to bail out of the crippled plane over Holland on Nov. 26, 1944.
"Scared to death, yeah," he recalled.
It was his ninth combat mission.
He was interrogated in Frankfurt, Germany, then placed in a railroad boxcar with 60 other men and shipped to a POW camp. They spent two days inside the car with no food.
In February 1945, the German military forced Hereford and other POWs on the "Black March" westward, ahead of the advancing Russian army. He was liberated by British forces on May 2, 1945.
Hereford, a native of Fort Scott, Kansas, worked as a plumber after the war.
Asked about how he felt to finally get his medals, he shrugged and smiled. "I don't go for this kind of thing," he said.
Nattier was piloting a B-17 bomber when he and his crew had to parachute out of their damaged plane over Germany on Sept. 13, 1944. Then 21 years old, Nattier was a first lieutenant on his 16th combat mission.
He suffered burns, hurt his back and had other injuries. Other Allied prisoners nursed him back to health in a POW camp hospital.
German soldiers abandoned the camp on April 30, 1945, as the war wound down. Nattier peered out a barracks window the morning of May 1 and saw another POW waving from a guard tower.
"That was a welcome sight," he said.
After the war, Nattier worked in the petroleum industry. He is a native of Concordia, Kansas.
Pederson was a rifleman and infantryman fighting in the battle of Sessenheim, France, when he was captured on Jan. 18, 1945. He was 19 and held the rank of corporal.
He spent three months in German POW camps before he was liberated by the British military. The POWS were euphoric at first, but then had to scramble for food because the British didn't have enough rations and no one was in charge.
After the war, Pederson worked as petroleum engineer, taught at Colorado School of Mines and worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and the federal Bureau of Land Management.
He is a native of West Salem, Wisconsin.
Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP