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World War II POW to speak here
Liberty lore
Robert Honeycutt, then 18, sits on a stump outside his barracks in Plant City, Fla. - photo by Photo provided.
Living in Liberty County and having Fort Stewart here, we are very aware of the military and what they stand for. We appreciate what they do so we can enjoy our freedoms.
Freedom does not come cheap. Many have lost their lives in the line of duty. I saw a picture that said: Land of the FREE-because of the BRAVE!
May 28 is Memorial Day and we must remember and honor our fallen soldiers and thank the living ones.
These are members of the U.S. Armed Forces from Liberty County who were killed in action, or died of non-combat reasons, during five previous wars. If there is someone you know who is not on this list or errors, please let me know.
Spanish American War: John T. Chapman.
World War I: Remus Bacon, John Holmes, Richardson Singleton Jr., Blanton Gordon, William B. McDonald, Donald Herbert Kimel, Kenry E. Rambo, Homer Edward Gill, Albert Blocker, Willie F. Gordon, David Parker Hughes and W. C. Crutchfield.
World War II: Wiles E. Folker, Edward D. Martin, Jessie L. Brash, Ernest T. Carmen, James W. Chance, Frank G. Marshman Jr., Allan McFarlane, John A. Moody, Rufus Neeley, Herman Ricks, John W. Shaw, Reford Tefft and Haven D. Tootle.
Korean War: Frank A. Baker, Webster R. Baker and James W. Dixon.
Vietnam War: Dan N. James, Jimmie T. Smiley, Floyd D. King Sr., Ronald J. Ensley Jr., John Gibson, Franklin L. Smiley, William H. Gregory, Oscar E. Lyles Jr. and William Sapp.
On May 22, the Liberty County Historical Society will have the honor of hearing from a former U. S. Army Air Forces soldier who became a prisoner of war during World War II. Robert H. Honeycutt flew with the crew of the Hell’s Belles. On May 29, 1944, their mission was to bomb a ball-bearing factory in Wiener-Neustadt, Austria. As the cameraman, Robert was called the “eleventh man” since bombers carried 10-man crews. Their plane was attacked by the Germans. Five of the 11 were killed. The others were injured, but parachuted into enemy territory and were captured by the Nazis.
Honeycutt was captured and taken to Northern Poland where he was held prisoner at Stalag Luft IV, a notorious prison camp where inhumane conditions were the norm and breaking a rule could mean the end of your life.
“A POW ceases to be a human being,” Honeycutt says. “You’re told when to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom or whatever.”
The following winter the British and U. S. troops began moving into Germany from the west, and the Soviet Union was closing in on the east. The Nazis wanted to prevent their prisoners from being freed by the Allies so they began evacuating the concentration camps, slave labor and POW camps.
Women, children and POWs by the thousands were forced to walk hundreds of miles in the freezing cold. Many were malnourished, sick and weak from the abuse they had suffered.
Honeycutt began his march on Feb. 6, 1945, in 20 below zero weather. He had a thin coat, blanket and whatever he could carry. The first night they slept in an open field.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of reaching over to wake up your buddy, and he’s stone cold dead,” Honeycutt said.
They walked 800 miles in 86 days, eating whatever they could find, sometimes bugs, and drinking water from filthy ditches. The ones who were too exhausted to keep up were taken into the woods and shot. Honeycutt, age 22, weighed 180 pounds the day he was captured by the Germans and weighed 99 pounds the day he was liberated by the Allies.
It would be years before Honeycutt could talk about the horrors he witnessed.
“I wanted to write about it. I tried time and again but the post-traumatic stress got me down.”
Hazel, his wife of 36 years, suffered in silence with him but one day in 2004 she handed him a pen and paper and told him to get with it. Once he started writing, he began talking and sharing his experience. He began visiting schools and community groups, telling his story and promoting his memoir, a book he titled “The Eleventh Man.” It sells for a mere $10.
Honeycutt was born to a family of nine children in 1923 in Alabama. He moved to Tennessee when he was 3. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force at 18.
He is a cancer survivor, bounced back from a fall on an asphalt parking lot that caused severe head injuries, and lived through a car accident in which others were killed.
“I’m a survivor from the word go. I’ll be 84 years old in June and the Lord’s still looking after me,” he says with a wide grin.
Today, he lives in Darien part of the time and in Rossville the other part.
Everyone is invited to come hear the story of his greatest and first life challenge that goes back more than 60 years to those skies over Austria.
Honeycutt will speak during the historical society’s meeting at the Walthourville Baptist Church, Walthourville at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. In the hour long program, he will show his medals, including two Purple Hearts, pictures, maps and other memorabilia. His book will be available for purchase. Refreshments will be served after the meeting. Please share this invitation with anyone you think would be interested.
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