HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The students of Presbyterian Christian High School were honored by the presence of a World War II veteran Monday at their Veterans Day assembly.
"I want you to know that I'm not a hero," Robert Lash began. "I did the same thing 15 million other young men did."
Robert Lash spoke to the captive audience and recalled his experience as a prisoner of war during WWII. Lash was raised on a farm in Michigan and enlisted in 1942 with hopes of becoming a pilot. Partial color blindness prevented him from flying, but when an opportunity to become an aerial gunner arose in March 1943, Lash jumped at the chance. After training, he was sent overseas.
Soon after, German forces shot down his plane and Lash was forced to strap on a parachute for the very first time. He jumped from the flaming aircraft, not knowing what dangers awaited below.
"It was very scary," remembered Lash. "People say, 'Oh, that scared me to death,' but they don't have any conception of what being frightened is."
Once he reached the ground, Lash was captured by the Germans and transported to Luft 3, the first of many prison camps, for interrogation. Conditions were deplorable at the camp. Prisoners were lucky to receive a meager serving of cabbage soup each day and water was scarce. Worms often floated to the top of the soup and before long, the starving men ate them for the extra nourishment. Lash entered the war at 165 pounds and returned home at only 115 pounds.
Amidst the horror, though, there was a ray of hope. Lash was given a Bible from the International Red Cross to read for the very first time. He read it hungrily, paging through the New Testament over and over. He accepted the Lord as his Savior at the age of 22.
Fearing a Russian invasion from the east, the Germans forced the captives on a brutal 180-mile trek. After being imprisoned for 22 months, Lash and four thousand other starving captives made the journey through the rain and snow without food or water.
In 1967, Lash returned to Germany and retraced the 180-mile trail. "It was horrendous," he said.
The prisoners of war were liberated in 1945 and Lash returned home to America. Tears rolled down his face as he spotted the Statue of Liberty from the ship.
Now he speaks directly to the next generation. "I want them to know that our freedom isn't easily gotten," Lash said. "It's your job, it's young people's job now to preserve our freedom."