The “Great Escape” is one of the most well-known escape attempts of all time. Perpetuated by POWs detained in StalagLuft III during the Second World War, this attempt has garnered enough fame to be turned into a feature film in 1963. Although more than seventy years have passed since the Great Escape took place, there are still a fair number of survivors, as well as survivors of the camp in general. Recently, these survivors and a large number of their family members met in Colorado Springs for a reunion.
Present at the reunion were over one dozen survivors, seventeen to be exact. Between their family members and others who showed up to demonstrate their support, there were more than one hundred people in attendance. The survivors are all friends, having shared a memorable experience together during the Great Escape as well as the rest of their time in the camp. Many of them have also gotten to know each other better over the course of previous reunions. They decided to hold this most recent reunion in Colorado Springs so that they could view the POW collection at the Air Force Academy, which contains materials concentrating on the thousands of airmen who were interned at StalagLuft III.
Even survivors who did not take part in the escape attempt still have memories of the event. They remember the secret maps and other forged documents kept by the prisoners, as well as the effort it took to prepare for the Great Escape by hiding massive amounts of dirt as the prisoners dug three separate tunnels. Some of their efforts were more unique. For instance, one of the prisoners managed to create a handcrafted compass.
In many ways, StalagLuft III was as emotionally trying for the families of prisoners as it was for the prisoners themselves. Since the prison was largely filled with airmen who had been shot down and captured, many family members heard about their love ones being shot down before discovering that they had been imprisoned. Many letters from such family members were collected by one of the men in charge of collecting supplies for the Great Escape, and are now available for viewing at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, The Gazette reports.
It may be surprising for some to learn that those who viewed the relics of the Great Escape and of life in general at StalagLuft III were not overly emotional. One of the veterans present at the reunion stated that he could have viewed the collection of artifacts all day. Similar feelings were shared by the veterans’ family members, who were able to gain a glimpse into a period of their loved ones’ lives that they were previously unable to understand. Even those who were not part of the Great Escape were greatly affected by their time at StalagLuft III. While it may not have been the best life, it brought them together in a way that has motivated them to attend reunions on a fairly regular basis.