World War II POWs may be attending their last reunion in the state this week, as the group has shrunk to a mere handful.
“What I’m hearing from the men themselves is that they are too old to travel as well as they used to,” said Neah Bryan, a Flowery Branch woman who is working with her husband, Jennings, on this year’s event, taking place today through Sunday at Stone Mountain.
“Even if someone put it on (the event), a lot of them would not come next year.”
As it is, about 15 men — including Neah’s father, Jack Woodward, who turns 90 in October — is the expected attendance.
“All these guys are around the same age,” she said.
The group, consisting of POWs from three camps, has met for 25 years.
“There are no elected officers and they don’t take dues,” Bryan said. “ They just meet every year.
“The guys themselves used to host (the event), but they’ve gotten to the age where it’s just too much. Doing it myself, I can certainly understand that,” she added. “There’s just a lot that goes into doing one of these.”
She credits the help of her husband, whose father, Dillard Bryan, also served in World War II but was not a POW.
The Bryans have worked to raise donations to take care of the men’s expenses, including setting up an account at Chattahoochee Bank of Georgia in Gainesville.
“We have been very blessed to have a several corporations that have made generous donations,” Neah said.
The POW camps, stalags IX-A, IX-B and IX-C, housed soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which began Dec. 16, 1944, and marked the final major German offensive during World War II.
Many were captured around Dec. 19 and liberated at the end of March 1945, according to a March 26 letter the couple sent to “fellow veterans and friends” about the reunion plans.
“It was the coldest winter documented in over 40 years,” the Bryans went on to say. “The men were still wearing what was considered summer clothing, as they had not yet been issued any winter clothing.
“They were marched four days through snow and ice, and then placed in boxcars. ... The Germans were able to squeeze 60 or more men in each boxcar.”
During his captivity, Jack Woodward went from 160 pounds to about 100 — weight he has never fully regained.
“I’m just lucky to be here, to tell you the truth,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview from his Mississippi home.
Woodward vividly remembered the march after his capture.
“On Christmas Day was the first meal we had during the time I walked from one prison camp to the other,” he said.
Bryan said that until the reunions started taking place, she never heard much from her father about his war experiences.
“These reunions have brought out a lot of the men and, I understand, they have helped a lot of them,” she said.
The Bryans say in the March 26 letter that they “are honored to be a small part” of the reunion efforts.
“They are our heroes,” they said. “These men sacrificed everything for our country and for us, and we want them to know that we remember and that we appreciate them.”