Indiana author Kayleen Reusser, known for writing several series of books featuring stories centered on World War II, has just completed a new book focusing on personal accounts from World War II prisoners of war. “Captured! Stories of American World War II Prisoners of War” includes the stories of eight former POWs from three branches of the U.S. military: the Army, the Navy, and the Army Air Corps, who came from the states of Indiana, Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
Two of the former POWs featured in the book hail from Northeast Indiana. They are Fort Wayne’s Jack and Johnny’s tavern owner Jack Humbrecht, who was shot down in Germany while serving in the Army Air Corps; and Bluffton’s Granville “Grant” Workman, a Bataan Death March survivor who was captured by the Japanese while serving in the Army and held as a POW in the Philippines.
Reusser was able to personally interview seven of the eight former POWs who are featured in her new book, which is the first volume in the author’s new WWII Prisoner of War series. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to interview them, not only because they have interesting stories to tell, but also because there aren’t many of them still around,” she said, noting that most WWII veterans have passed and those few remaining are well into their 90s or older.
The story of the eighth person featured in her book—Grant Workman from Bluffton—was written posthumously based on a detailed journal he put together after the war. Although Reusser did not have the opportunity to interview him due to his death in 1998, Workman’s daughter was able to provide a copy of his journal, which provided an insightful account of his days as a prisoner of war while being held captive by the Japanese in the Philippines.
After interviewing the various men featured in “Captured!,” and/or reading their journal, Reusser found that while each veteran had a totally different experience as a prisoner of war, there were recurring themes. Five of those featured became prisoners of war after their planes were shot down over Europe and many of them experienced painful frostbite, in addition to the horrible diets, near-starvation and abuse that came with being a POW. Survival skills came in many forms, from developing a secret lingo so they could covertly communicate among themselves, to reminding themselves of loved ones at home, thus instilling a desire to live. A strong religious faith was also a common theme among the survivors, something they carried with them throughout their lives.
“Hearing their stories helps us appreciate what our veterans have done for us,” Reusser says. That’s a big part of why she continues to publish books sharing the stories of yesterday’s war heroes, along with the historical aspect of documenting how past wars have helped to shape the world of today. She said she likes to release a new book around Veterans Day each year, to commemorate and show appreciation for our veterans.
Reusser is married to a retired U.S. Air Force airman and is the mother of an airman. She believes in patriotism and is helping to foster this through sharing veterans’ stories. “My books are part of a continued effort to preserve our national military heritage by interviewing veterans and writing their stories,” she said.