By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired), 142nd Fighter Wing History Office (Volunteer)
/ Published April 08, 2016
PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. -- April 9th is the annual observance of National Former Prisoner of War (POW) Recognition Day, when we remember the service and sacrifice of our servicemen and women who were prisoners of war.
The 142nd Fighter Wing historical record indicates that it has both Second World War and Korean War former POWs to remember and to honor, with the preponderance, 20 men (of whom three subsequently escaped) from World War II and one from Korea.
This year we detail the POW experience of one of these men, Luther P. "Luke" Canup, a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilot who flew in the unit during World War II when the 142nd Fighter Wing was designated as the 371st Fighter Group.
We go back to July 8, 1944. The 371st Fighter Group was based at Advanced landing Ground A-6 in Normandy, France, near Ste. Mère-Église. The group's 405th Fighter Squadron flew a morning mission of armed reconnaissance on that day, the results of which were described in an operational report generated by the group afterwards which read:
"The 405th Sq. led by Capt. (John W.) Leonard, took off at 1045 to perform armed recce south to T-673508 (a coordinate for a geographical location in the Modified British System used at the time). Sq. arrived over target 1115-1200. Results of bombing good. 6 hits on or near bridge at T-2352, 1220 B, 1 miss S of bridge, bridge still standing when left. 2 hits on flak position T-2521; 2 on flak position T-5050; 2 jettisoned in woods T-4851. 1 bomb ret. 7 A/C with bombs, 4 as top cover. 1 staff car, one half track destroyed, one truck damaged. One staff car stopped at T-7026. Half track going NE, both were strafed and left burning. Truck damaged at T-7026 while stopped. Gun positions and troops at T-2449. 2 plus gun positions silenced by Capt. Leonard. Flak intense and accurate at T-4015. 10/10 stralics (sic) with base at 4,500, vis. Under 3.4 mile except in rain. T. D. 1250."
During the mission, Captain Luther P. "Luke" Canup was hit by flak near Vire, France, some 24 miles south-southeast of St. Lo, while leading his flight in P-47D-20 serial number 42-76454. Forced to bail out, he did so just before his stricken aircraft exploded. The 371st report on the mission succinctly noted the event: "Capt. Luther P. Canup hit by flak and was seen to bail out and floating down in open parachute at T-4015," no doubt a victim of the "intense and accurate" flak reported above.
For the rest of the month squadron members hoped he would be able to evade capture and turn up at A-6 as several other members of the group had done. But as things turned out, this veteran of 41 combat missions was captured and became a "guest" of the Third Reich. He was placed in care of the Luftwaffe, at a "Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager," a POW camp known as Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Silesia, in eastern Germany. Prisoners in Germany called themselves "Kriegies" based on this long name for the POW camps they were held in.
Stalag Luft III is known as the location of the "The Great Escape," which occurred in March, 1944 - although there were no Americans involved in this epic prison break, unlike depicted by Steve McQueen in the famous movie by the same name.
Luke Canup did not stay at Stalag Luft III for the duration of hostilities, however, for as the Soviet Army advanced westward later in the war, the Germans force marched 80,000 POWs from various POW camps to other stalags farther west. Even as German forces retreated before the Allied onslaught they tried to retain control of the Kriegies. A number of POWs did not survive this wintry trek in January, 1945, though Luke Canup did.
After the grueling winter march, Canup then ended up in Bavaria, at Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg (Nuremberg) Langwasser. Stalag XIII was a real stalag, not the Stalag 13 of "Hogan's Heroes" television comedy fame, unfortunately.
But that was not the last move for Kriegie Luke Canup. In fact, it appears that he survived another POW evacuation by the Germans, based upon a move of POWs from Stalag XIII-D which occurred on April 12, 1945. We know about this move because of the presence of his hand writing on a Nazi flag that once flew over the city hall in Moosburg, Germany, located some 94 miles southeast of Nuremberg and 35 miles northeast of Munich, Germany.
Moosburg was the site of Stalag VII-A, and was the largest POW camp in Germany, with over 80,000 men by the end of the war in a camp designed to hold 10,000.
The Moosburg flag was saved after the war, and is now on display at the National Mighty Eighth Museum in Savannah, Georgia. The number of names and indication of homes of record indicate how far and wide the POW experience touched American flyers in Europe during this war.
Although Luther P. Canup passed away in 2010, we remember him, the other twenty 142nd Fighter Wing-related former POWs, and all of our nation's former POWs. We honor their service and sacrifice for our country.
On November 8, 1985, Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law a bill which authorized the Prisoner of War Medal. This medal honors those who continued to serve our country though they were held in enemy captivity. Former POW's must apply to receive the award retroactively. The medal may also be awarded posthumously, and also to the nearest next of kin of an eligible POW who died in captivity. Application instructions can be found on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency website, at: http://www.dpaa.mil/Resources/PrisonerofWarMedal.aspx