WWII Former Amtracker Lives to Tell the Story of 2,000 rescued POW

WWII Former Amtracker Lives to Tell the Story of 2,000 rescued POW

Pete Gleich was only 18 years old when he enlisted and 20 years old when the Los Banos Rescue marked his ‘day to remember’. 66 years after he helped rescue over 2000 prisoners of war, held hostage in a Japanese camp, Gleich the 463 members of the 672 Amtracers are being awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

It took Pete five years and over 900 letters to different government entities for the Amtracers to receive their Citation. He even talks proudly about his comrades – “The operation itself was strictly a battalion operation; there were no individual heroics.”

It was Feb. 23, 1945 – the day Sgt. Kelly, an Irish man “from his boot tips up” requested those who didn’t want to get involved in the operation [due to heavy casualties] to step back, The Jessamine Journal reports.

“Nobody stepped back,” Gleich said. “We volunteered 100 percent.”

The decision was made around 1pm on Feb. 22. They walked through the darkness of the night ’till early morning. Gleich remembers it as being “the darkest night of the year”.

The operation was a success. Although they had a few wounded, no prisoner or rescuer died and there was nobody left behind. “The people involved were physically in bad shape,” he said. “Most of them didn’t even want to talk about it then.”

He kept in touch with one of the rescued ones. He told Gleich about the conditions they were living in and the food they were eating at times. “He told me, ‘At first, I used to throw out the bugs, but later on I figured out I should eat the bugs because they’re a source of protein,’” Gleich said, proud to have been responsible of taking them all out of the camp.

Gleich talks about his experience at the time as hard to describe. He knows the outcome could have been many times worst, considering the fact that the Japanese had 10,000 troops very close to where they were.  “It was a race against time,” he said.

When he returned home to Wisconsin, he met his future wife and started a car dealership with his father in law, which he operated for 34 years and sold it in 1994. He remarried when his wife died, after 53 years of marriage and he’s now living with her in Nicholasville.

Although he tried as much as he could to keep in touch with others in the battalion, he does know how many of them are still alive. He has a whole bunch of cards on his desk, all ready to be sent out to the ones who were with him that they.

While he’s sitting in his study, looking through the hundreds of letters he wrote, Pete Gleich’s walls are covered with plaques. He was named a Kentucky Colonel by Gov. Steve Beshear, an “honorary citizen” of Nicholasville, awarded by Mayor Russ Meyer, along with the Citation of Valor from the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE