Forever a Hero

Overdue honors paid fallen hero

On May 10, 1945, Tech Sgt. Robert Brady of the Army Air Corp sat down and wrote a long overdue letter to his family back in Oregon.

A week earlier, Brady, a radio operator on a B-17 bomber, and about 9,000 American and British troops had been freed from Stalag Lift I, a Nazi prisoner of war camp located on Germany's frigid Fischland-Darss-Zingst Peninsula during World War II.

Brady wrote about the "swell treatment" he and fellow soldiers had received from their Russian Army liberators, and promised stories of his seven months in captivity when he finally arrived home.

Elaine DeVore of Salem said during the 17 years that she and Brady were married, however, he hardly spoke about the ordeal.

"All I really knew was that he was in the Army Air Corps, that he was shot down over Germany and taken to a POW camp," she said.

DeVore, a Navy veteran who wed Brady about 20 years after the war ended, said on occasion, he'd mention the extreme cold or hunger. He showed her the heavy, wool stocking cap he'd made using part of his blanket in the prison barracks.

"Somehow, he managed to knit or crochet this, because his head was cold," she said. "I didn't even know he knew how to knit."

Brady almost never brought up Stalag Luft in conversations. When he left the army, he didn't seek out the medals he'd earned or have the missing in action status on his discharge paperwork switched to POW.

Late in life, Brady developed serious emotional issues DeVore believes were brought on by the war, issues that contributed to his suicide in 1981.

She said Brady never got the recognition he deserved, and that his death left many of the questions about his traumatic experience unanswered.

But since 2002, DeVore has spent countless hours searching for details on Brady's military history. She's also worked closely with the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs (ODVA) in acquiring his service medals.

Those efforts culminated June 18 with a ceremony among DeVore's colleagues at Amvets Post 1776 in Independence, where Brady was posthumously awarded seven World War II medals, including an Air Medal for numerous flight missions and a POW medal.

DeVore said she wished Brady could have received a proper tribute when he came home from the war almost 60 years ago.

Still, she said researching Brady's past helped bring about a sense of closure.

"Going through this answered a lot of questions, about what happened in the past," she said.

Elaine DeVore started delving into Brady's military history about two years ago, after she and husband, Gary, whom she married in 1982, sorted through Brady's old photos and service papers.

Gary DeVore, the provost for Amvets, said he noticed Brady's final discharge records showed his MIA status had never been officially changed to POW.

"I said this just isn't right and we sort of went from there," said Gary DeVore, whose father also fought in World War II.

Elaine DeVore contacted the ODVA for help in correcting the error, and began assembling evidence to prove Brady was a POW, including letters he'd written to his family after his release from Stalag Luft and a list of the prisoners at the camp she found on the Internet.

ODVA then sent off the information to Army and Air Force records offices for review.

"It took two years, but that's nothing," Gary DeVore said with a laugh, "not when you're dealing with the government and have to go back so far (in the records)."

Elaine DeVore continued to seek out details on the prison camp and the circumstances of her late husband's capture.

She happened upon one web page dedicated to the bombing squads of World War II and inquired on the message board about the unit Brady belonged to, the 750th Bombardment Squadron.

DeVore learned that her husband's plane was on a mission over Cologne, Germany Oct. 17, 1944 when its engines were knocked out by anti-aircraft fire.

Instead of bailing out, the crew ditched equipment and guns to lighten the load and attempted to glide west into nearby Belgium.

The plane ended up crashing just short of Allied territory, killing three of the nine-man crew. The rest were rounded up and taken to Stalag Luft.

DeVore also learned that three members of the crew are still alive today, and has recently chatted over the phone with the pilot of the plane.

"We were surprised at how much info we found," Gary DeVore said. "I think a lot of this stuff would be lost if not for the internet because the vets themselves won't talk about it."

Elaine DeVore said she found a comprehensive history of Stalag Luft I on another website dedicated its POWs.

DeVore found Brady's name among those being kept in the North 3 compound, as well as drawings of the actual barracks.

She also learned about some of the conditions captives like Brady were forced to tolerate, such wood chip mattresses, perpetually flooded latrines and threadbare clothing that offered scant protection from the winter cold.

In March of 1945, the camp suffered a shortage of Red Cross parcels, which made the food supply so scarce, guards had to keep starving POWs from eating out of trash cans.

DeVore said she found on the website a "special" recipe for Black Bread, part of a prisoner's daily rations.

"The two main ingredients were sawdust and straw," she said. "And at times, ground glass."

DeVore said she sometimes wonders if Brady had been able to talk about his ordeal, if he might have been able to overcome the emotional problems he battled toward the end of his life. As a veteran, he would have been eligible for counseling.

"It was just a something that was avoided," she said. "Some will talk about it, and some won't.

"POWs very seldom will. It's a can of worms they don't want to open."

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