Sisters recount dad's harrowing WWII POW ordeal

Print
Email
|

by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on November 11, 2013 at 7:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 12 at 3:20 AM

FORT WORTH — Bits of yellowed paper flake off when Janetta McGee opens the leather-bound scrapbook. She carefully turns to a Western Union telegram, preserved under Scotch tape.

"This was dated July 21st," she said. "This is letting them know he was missing in action."

The telegram arrived on July 21, 1944. But Pvt. John McGee had been missing since June 6 — D-Day.

He wasn't much more than a year out of North Side High School when he parachuted behind German lines as part of the Allied invasion forces.

"Of the 140 he jumped with, only 25 lived," Janetta said.

Janetta and Merilyne McGee pieced together their dad's story through the years.

Back in the summer of 1944, no one in Fort Worth knew what had happened to 19-year-old Johnny McGee.

"They had already received this saying he was missing, but they didn't know whether he was alive," Merilyne said. "And the longer they didn't hear, the more frightened they were."

One day, Johnny's sister Sarah went to the movies downtown. And what she saw in a newsreel caused her to stay and watch it over and over.

Then she brought Johnny's sweetheart, Dorafae Collins, and Dorafae saw it, too.

The film showed American prisoners being paraded for the cameras by their German captors.

"And all of a sudden, Mama goes... "There goes Johnny! Is that Johnny?' And Aunt Sarah says, 'Yeah; I've already seen it three times. Let's go home and tell mom he's alive!'"

Sarah convinced the projectionist to give them the snippet of film with Johnny's image. The family printed photos from the film and spread them around.

Months later — on October 20 — a second telegram finally confirmed Private McGee was a POW, held in Stalag 4B near the doomed city of Dresden.

That city was soon to be burned to cinders by allied bombers.

"Then afterward, they had to go clean up the dead bodies," Janetta said. She said her father never talked too much about the charred corpses, but he did share that as bombs fell, he and other emaciated prisoners caught — and ate — the camp commander’s cat. He told his daughters the commandant offered extra rations to search for it.

Later, at reunions, they learned their dad was a prison camp trouble-maker, often confined to a small box as punishment.

"He was deaf in one ear,” said Janetta. “He smarted off to a German and they hit him with a rifle butt."

But in the final days of the war, when German guards disappeared overnight, the women said their father helped save a remaining guard from advancing Soviet troops.

"This German guard had been very decent. So they got scraps of clothes and disguised him as a POW," the sisters explained.

It was the summer of 1945 when another telegram arrived.

"It's June 24, 1945. It's the telegram our father sent to our mother. And it is: 'Little girl, in God's country. Be home late tomorrow night or early Tuesday. All my love.'"

Dorafae wore the bracelet her dad gave her before going overseas: Paratrooper jump wings held by metal links. The inscription is all but worn away: "I'll be back. Love, Johnny."

In October, 1945, Johnny and Dorafae were married.

Janetta and Meryline McGee grew up idolizing their dad. They lost him 20 years ago.

They love to tell the story of how he was found — at the movies.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

Print
Email
|