The daughter of a Columbus man who was a World War II prisoner of war for nearly four years will speak during Friday’s fifth annual POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony.

Brigitta Hemmings is the daughter of Gustav “Gus” Potthoff, a former member of the Dutch Indies Army who was held captive by the Japanese for 42 months.

The 30-minute ceremony, which gets underway at 6:30 p.m. at the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans, also will feature AMVETS State Commander Kenny Burton Terre Haute as the keynote speaker.

The names of 55 Bartholomew County POWs/MIAs will be read by Iraq War veterans Chris Fitzsimmons and Tasha Sorokin, event coordinator Bob Miller said.

Friday’s remembrance is intended to help ensure the search for more than 82,000 military personnel still missing in action since WW II — and continue until families are either given closure or reunited with their loved ones, Miller said.

While similar in tone to the annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, the difference is likely to be in the thoughts and emotions of people attending who may not know — or never know — what happened to a loved one, Miller said.

Hemmings is expected to speak about how her father, who worked 22 years for Cummins Inc., kept most of his nightmarish war experiences to himself, Miller said.

It wasn’t until well after his 1987 retirement that paintings by Gus Potthoff surfaced publicly that revealed his years as a POW in Thailand, news accounts state.

Eventually, friends and former co-workers learned that Potthoff was one of thousands of prisoners forced to build the notorious Burma-Siam railway.

Their ordeal, which included the deaths of about 15,000 POWs, was dramatized in the 1957 Academy Award-winning film “Bridge on the River Kwai”.

After the war, Potthoff worked for NATO while living in Holland, but came to Columbus through a sponsorship with First Christian Church in 1965. Active in retirement with both the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum and the Hope American Legion, Potthoff died a few days before Christmas last year at the age of 94.

Friday’s ceremony will close with a rifle volley and taps by the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard. In case of inclement weather, it will be held in the Cal Brand meeting room on the first floor of Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

Participants returning from last year’s observance include master of ceremonies Zack Ellison, vocalist Harvey Leggett and the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums.

If you go

National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans, southwest of the county courthouse.

Length: 30 minutes.

Rain location: Cal Brand meeting room at Columbus City Hall.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.