Today is a day we remember those who gave their lives and fought in wars so that we might live in freedom. Last year, I posted about my father in an article entitled “Remembering Dad.”
This year, I’d like to share my father-in-law’s story. Tony Hrkach (1925-1995) served as a tail gunner in the United States Air Force during the second World War.
Near the end of the war, during a routine mission, Tony’s plane was shot down over Yugoslavia (coincidentally, near his father’s birthplace). Frantically, he and his buddies parachuted out of the airplane. Unfortunately, however, one of his friends hit the side of a mountain and was killed. Tony and the others made it safely to the ground and were captured as soon as they landed.
They were marched for miles until they reached a POW camp. Remarkably, they found the Germans running the camp to be kind and, while it was not easy to be a prisoner of war, they were treated humanely.
When an announcement came over the radio that Germany had lost the war, their captors immediately handed their weapons and guns over to the Americans. Then, in a strange moment of understanding, they exchanged small personal tokens as reminders of their time together.
“I don’t just think of myself as a citizen of the United States; I think of myself as a citizen of the world,” he used to say. His idea was that we should remember first and foremost that we are all human beings, especially in time of war.
Like my own father and many other veterans, my father-in-law enjoyed “Hogan’s Heroes,” the television sitcom from the 1960’s about a German POW camp. The show attempted to put a human spin on such horrific times…the very thing that Tony found in his real experience with the ‘enemy.’
While we remember all those who fought in wars so that we may live in freedom, let us also remember that the real enemy isn’t necessarily the people we fight against, but the evil circumstances that result from greed, lust and power.
Photo and text copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach
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It’s funny,my dad was a Korean War vet and he hated HH; said it made light of the situation that wasn’t funny at all. Interesting how differently different people, even those with similar backgrounds, feel about things.
Thank you for sharing your father-in-law’s story.
Our men who fought in Asia in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam were not so lucky. I think the difference is the Judeo Christian background we share with the Europeans. I agree with your last sentence and I, too, think of myself as a citizen of the world.
This memorial for your father-in-law is part of a remembrance I wish people would do more often.
You’re welcome, Carol, and thanks for commenting.
Barb, I know of other POWs who were not as fortunate as my father-in-law. Even though he was very blessed, he was not comfortable talking about his war experiences although every now and then, he’d share his story. With regard to my dad and stepdad, they have never talked about their experiences with war.
Wonderful post. Brings tears to my eyes, thinking of anyone having to fight in a war and having to live as a prisoner. I am glad your father-in-law was treated humanely. Your last paragraph is so true.
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