Former POW discusses resiliency

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Curtis J. Lenz
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Former U.S. Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Herman 'Herk' Streitburger recently spoke to members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing about his experience as a prisoner of war during World War II.

During his presentation, Streitburger discussed being shot down, surviving a prisoner of war camp and his eventual escape.

He credits his ability to survive captivity with his discipline and training.

"People owned your body but at least they didn't own your mind," said Streitburger.

The former POW enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Valentine's Day 1941 at the age of 21.

Initially he took the Army Air Corps exam to be a pilot but washed out of that program and eventually found his way on a B-24 Liberator bomber crew as a gunner and radio operator in the 343rd Bombardments Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force.

On June 26, 1944 their 50th mission targeted Vienna, Austria. Streitburger's bomber got as far as Hungry when they came under attack during their initial point by German Luftwaffe fighters. 

Streitburger spent time in several POW camps and later ended up at Camp Stalag Luft IV in Pomerania (now Poland). He and two other prisoners escaped and were eventually repatriated by allied British forces.

During a return trip to Europe years later, he came upon an excavation in the ground called a Fire Pond which collected rain water, ice, and snow.

"I'm standing here looking at it and it hit me like a ton of bricks," said Streitburger. "I had been standing in the exact same spot 61 years before."

The experience is still very emotional for him.

"I'm not ashamed to stay that I got very emotional," he said. "I started to cry and some of the women in my group had to comfort me."

According to Capt. Ryan Tannian, a pharmacist assigned to the 157th Medical Group, and who was responsible for bringing Streitburger to Pease, his story is about perseverance and resilience.

After the war, Streitburger worked in marketing for the beer industry in New York City for many years.  Eventually he and his family moved to New England. They currently reside in Bedford, N.H.

The veteran was greeted by a standing ovation from Airmen attending the event.

"It's a privilege to be here and to be born here," said Streitburger. "I'm grateful for every day of my life."

He said the group that he is, "...96 years young and proud of it!"

He has been featured in an episode of the "Veterans History Project" that is part of the National Library of Congress. Since 2011, he's been speaking to eighth graders at a Manchester, N.H. middle school.