VA set to recognize local surviving war prisoners

IRON MOUNTAIN — The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center will recognize three local heroes who were prisoners of war in conjunction with the National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, Sept. 18.

The Iron Mountain-based VA medical center will be observing this day with a special luncheon for residents of its Community Living Center, as well as sending a care package to each of the three local surviving former POWs it serves. The care package includes a warm POW/MIA fleece sweater, ball cap, and pin, as well as letters of recognition from the medical center director and local congressional representatives. In the past, the medical center has honored the former POWs with a formal ceremony and special luncheon; however, due to COVID-19 precautions, this year’s ceremony was canceled.

Since the outbreak of World War I, more than 142,000 American service men and women were captured and held as POWs. Today, less than 20,000 are still living. “They endured uncertainties, deprivations, and hardships of hostile captivity; something that very few Americans can relate to,” said Jim Rice, medical center director. “However, we are extremely grateful and indebted to these heroes.”

There are three of these heroes that the facility will recognize this year:

— Mr. John Kusmitch, of Kingsford, MI, served in the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division during the Korean War. He was captured during the Spring Offensive in April 1951, when the 700,000 strong Chinese People’s Volunteer Army attacked UN forces in hopes of driving them off the Korean peninsula.

— Mr. John Moddie of Quinnesec, MI, served with the Army’s 590th Field Artillery and was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. He has had the experience of being lined up with other POWs in front of German machine guns, but fortunately the guns were not fired.

— Robert Smith, of Hartland, Wisc. served with the U.S Army’s, 4th Armored Division. Smith was captured, along with others from his company, on Good Friday, 1945, during a POW rescue mission. Smith was 18 at the time of his capture and spent 33 days as a POW before the camp was liberated.

“We also take this time to remember those who remain unaccounted for,” Rice says. Of whom, there remain over 82,000. “No group of civilians has given more than the loved ones of those who never came home and remained missing in action.”


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