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WWII vet thanks counterpart for division's rescue of American POWs


Reprinted from the Harrison Daily Times, Harrison AR

It took almost 60 years, but Walter Mayberry of Harrison AR, finally got to publicly thank a member of the Army infantry division that rescued him and thousands of others from a German POW camp. And it happened in an unlikely fashion on Nov. 8, 2004, right here in Harrison.

The local (Gen. J.O. Shelby) Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans decided last year to honor all veterans by inviting local veterans to speak at selected monthly meetings of the camp. Last year Mayberry spoke to the camp of his experience of being shot down over Germany and spending grueling months in a POW camp. He related that they were finally liberated by the 99th Infantry Division and that he had never had a chance to meet anyone from the 99th since that day and thank them for his rescue.

It happened that there were two SCV members, Jeff and Kevin Middleton of Jasper AR, whose father John Paul had served in the 99th. After that meeting, Jeff mentioned that fact to Mayberry who remarked that he would love for them to be able to meet sometime.

It worked out that John Paul, who now resides in Fayetteville AR, was later invited to be the guest speaker for the November meeting to coincide with Veterans Day.

He was born and raised in Harrison, graduating from Harrison High School in 1941. While at Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA) he enlisted and went through the Army Specialized Training Program at Camp Maxey TX.

As part of the 99th Division, they fought through the bitter cold in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge, holding Elsenborn Ridge against the German onslaught. After stopping the Germans they pushed on into Germany, crossing the famous Remagen Bridge before it collapsed.

While leading a patrol deep in German territory, Middleton was shot through the chest and was evacuated to a field hospital, then to England, then back to the U.S. While still recovering, Germany and then Japan surrendered.

The 99th continued on into Germany, liberating both Allied POWs and civilians. Middleton of course, was not with the division by then.

Maryberry heard Middleton was going to speak at the SCV meeting and attended. The two had never met, so after Middleton's talk, Mayberry took the floor, briefly recounting his own experiences that he had told about in detail the previous year, and publicly thanked Middleton as a member of the division that had liberated him.

Mayberry then walked over to Middleton who stood up and they shook hands. Mayberry saluted and Middleton returned it to an ovation by the enthusiastic audience. Those watching suddenly realized they were seeing history, as two aging vets, separated by 60 years and a lifetime, united and honored each other.

The meeting adjourned with a prayer. Then Mayberry and Middleton got acquainted while SCV members looked at some of Middleton's war memorabilia, including his dog tag with a bullet hole and his Purple Heart.

What started out as an interesting talk by a World War II vet about his exploits turned into a moment in time that could not have been better scripted by a fiction writer.