Bartholomew County resident Gus Pothoff survived 42 months as an Allied prisoner of war during World War II, but many of his fellow POWs were not as fortunate to come home.
“He saw a lot of his friends not make it,” said Bob Miller, a local veteran.
That’s why Miller is working to ensure the memories of those POWs — as well as the memories of soldiers listed as missing in action — do not fade away with time.
As part of the national POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, Miller organized three veterans events in Columbus to recognize the efforts of soldiers who suffered at the hands of the enemy.
“This is too important not to do it,” Miller said.
The first event — which will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Bartholomew County Public Library — will honor Pothoff’s legacy in World War II.
As a POW, Pothoff worked on Hellfire Pass, a railroad running through Thailand that was constructed by the forced labor of Allied POWs.
“You looked down, and all you could see were torches,” Miller said. “That’s why it was called Hellfire Pass.”
Now 93 years old, Pothoff will attend Wednesday night’s screening of “Lest We Forget,” a film about his time on Hellfire Pass.
The evening also will include a screening of “The Lost Valentine,” which chronicles the story of a woman whose husband is declared MIA during World War II.
Friday’s celebration of National POW/MIA Recognition Day will begin with a free dinner at the Columbus American Legion, which is open to both veterans and other community members.
From the dinner, guests will be asked to move downtown to the veterans memorial, where the names of all Bartholomew County POWs and MIAs and the number of days they spent in captivity will be read.
William Weberdin, Indiana state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, also will speak at the service.
At both the service and the film screenings, a special POW/MIA table with various symbols — such as a white table cloth and a single chair — will be on display.
A short film will explain the meaning of the table at the film screenings, while a verbal explanation will be given at the ceremony.
The week’s events will conclude with a performance by the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums.
“Lest we Forget” and “The Lost Valentine” screenings:
- When: 6 p.m. Sept. 16
- Where: Bartholomew County Public Library Red Room, 536 Fifth St.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day dinner
- When: 4-6 p.m. Sept. 18, (end time is approximate)
- Where: American Legion Post 24, 2515 25th St.
- Who: Open to veterans and guests
- Cost: Free, but donations are encouraged
National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony
- When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18
- Where: Bartholomew County veterans memorial; rain location – City Hall Cal Brand meeting room