MJarine Agt. Brian McLean, left, and Cpl. Benjamin Buckney wave from a light armored vehicle during the Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 Veterans Day Weekend parade in Albany.
ALBANY — What it lacked in numbers, the crowd at the “Salute to Veterans Day” event made up for with cheers, applause and heartfelt enthusiasm Saturday.
In a move to engage the crowd with history, 90-year-old retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Crawford Hicks of Warner Robbins spoke of his tour as a B-17 bomber pilot in Europe during World War II.
Hicks’ talk about his flights bombing Germany and his time as a prisoner of war sparkled as he described conditions in prison camp Stalag Luft III during 1944. It was the same prison camp that was the site of “The Great Escape” in 1943.
That escape became legend among the prisoners who later occupied the camp and among movie fans who saw the movie in 1963.
“Seventy-three made the attempt. Twenty were captured, three escaped and 50 were taken out and murdered at the orders of Hitler himself,” Hicks said. “So it was pretty rough in the camp.”
Although they constantly faced death, conditions at the camp weren’t all that bad, Hicks said. Cold and hunger were the main afflictions.
“Food was all we talked about,” Hicks said. “I mean, we didn’t talk about women or anything. We were so hungry we talked about recipes.”
To amuse themselves, the prisoners taunted a guard in a machine-gun tower by making funny faces. The guard turned the machine gun on them, and he laughed when they scurried for cover.
Hicks said there were other surprises while he was a POW. A particularly big, mean-looking guard with a scowl on his face saw Hicks and other Americans going to the camp.
“He said, ‘Jesus Christ, where the hell you guys from?’ in a Brooklyn accent,” Hicks said. “Turns out he was visiting family in Germany when the war broke out and had been caught up in it.”
Hicks said his experience with the civilians before and after his liberation by General George Patton’s men was good. He said the people were also suffering hunger and managed to share what little potatoes and water they had with the prisoners.
“They were nice, not antagonistic,” Hicks said. “I don’t think the war was the German people. I think it was Hitler that did it.”
The ceremonies at the Veterans Park Amphitheater on Front Street ended before 11 a.m. A parade of military vehicles, motorcycles and classic cars drove veterans to American Legion Post 30 on the 2900 block of Gillionville Road.
At the Legion Post, veterans, families and friends celebrated the sacrifices and triumphs of Veterans Day 2011.