Private Lynch Brings Back Memories For POWs

The homecoming of Private Jessica Lynch touched thousands of hearts Tuesday afternoon, including that of retired Lt. Colonel James McGahee of Van.

The private's return reminds McGahee about his own days as a Prisoner of War. In November of 1943, McGahee spent a week under the control of Hitler's Gestapo after his B-24 bomber was shot down over Germany.

Six members of McGahee's crew died in the crash, the East Texan was among four others who bailed out and survived. McGahee spent several days with an underground group in Holland before he was finally captured.

"We all back in World War II knew about Hitler and the Gestapo," McGahee said Wednesday. "And when you're in their hands for the first time, you naturally fear for your life."

The Gestapo mistook McGahee for a spy and sent him to another prison where he spent 18 months. When watching Lynch and other POWs return, McGahee is reminded of what he went through and what they're going through.

"It's not going to be easy for them," he says compassionately. "They're going to have to have all the counseling they need to get through this."

McGahee feels fortunate he can watch a younger generation ship off and return from war. And in this generation, prisoners like Private Lynch remind him America is constantly evolving.

"I was very, very proud of her," said McGahee. "To think of a young lady like that being a prisoner in World War II. I wouldn't have been able to fathom such a thing."

McGahee rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force and has achieved dozens of honorary medals in his lifetime. The retired vet survived one of the war's toughest air strikes over Polesti. He will meet remaining Polesti survivors next month in Salt Lake City.

Kerri Panchuk, reporting.