After more than 70 years, the Pentagon has finally decided that 143 American airmen who served time in a tough prison camp after being captured while fighting Nazi Germany were prisoners of war who deserve recognition. The men weren't recognized as POWs until now because they were imprisoned not in Germany or any of its allies, but in neutral Switzerland, the Washington Post reports. Most of them ended up in the notorious Wauwilermoos Prison Camp after being shot down or forced down by Nazi fighters, and subsequently trying to escape internment to rejoin their units.
"There wasn't too much food and we'd fight over who got the largest piece of bread. It was dirty and miserable," a former prisoner told the Christian Science Monitor in 2003. "It was swampland. You got off the train and you sank a foot. It was as bad as the toughest camp in Germany, but at least there were bunks in Germany. The US government ignored it." At a Pentagon ceremony yesterday, the eight surviving prisoners were awarded the United States Prisoner of War Medal. The Air Force finally approved the medals only after a tireless 15-year fight from Army Maj. Dwight Mears, whose grandfather was a prisoner at the Swiss camp, Fox reports. He attended yesterday's ceremony on behalf of his grandfather, a B-17 pilot who died in 1972. (Meanwhile, a new clue has emerged in a WWII mystery.)