John H. "Jack" Meyers sat at a local restaurant and flipped through a ream of computer mailing labels bearing the names of scores of men who served time as prisoners of war. They have lately been among the missing, the men who have shown no interest in joining the fellowshipof other ex-prisoners of war.
It's a problem for Jack and his fellow ex-prisoner, John M. Meyers. The two men, who are not related, recently established a north Anne Arundel chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War, an organization with about 30,000 members, roughly 850 inMaryland's six chapters. They say many former POWs do not want to stir terrible memories by associating with other ex-POWs.
Jack Meyers and John Meyers, both of Glen Burnie, empathize with that reluctance as they fight it. They are reaching out for new members, emphasizing that the group's purpose is not to rehash history butto help members improve their lives.
"We want to get together notto talk about what we did, but to talk about what we're going to do,to enjoy the rest of our lives," said John Meyers, 65. "We're all getting to the age when our years are numbered. To hell with the past."
He says that, but admits that his memories are not so easily vanquished. He was captured in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge andimprisoned in Germany for six months in 1944 and 1945.
The imagesreturn to him vividly: men packed into boxcars, beatings, starvation, sleeping on a bug-invested mat, Allied bombing raids rattling the walls of a German submarine factory where John Meyers worked with other prisoners. He was freed by U.S. forces in May 1945.
Jack Meyers,69, was a prisoner for about seven months in Italy after being captured on the Anzio beachhead in March 1944. He escaped in the fall of that year as the prison camp population was being marched to a railroad station. During the march, Jack Meyers leaped off a bridge into a stream and swam off. He spent about six weeks behind enemy lines before finding his way to a British camp.
The other day, Jack Meyers sat at a restaurant in the Glen Burnie Mall decked out in his American Ex-Prisoners of War cap and jacket. He looked around the restaurant and said, "I bet I can go to every table here and interview every person here and no one will know what the American Ex-Prisoners of War is, and that's sad."
He says he wants to change that as the organization's state commander, a position he's held since February. With names of ex-prisoners of war supplied by veterans organizations and the federal government, Meyers said he will more aggressively publicize the organization. He said it's been especially difficult to recruit former Vietnam War prisoners.
"I think they'll start coming out as they get older," Jack Meyers said.
American Ex-Prisoners of War evolved from the Bataan Relief Organization, which was formed in 1942. The name was changed in 1949. Its purpose is to foster camaraderie among ex-POWs, provide information about government benefits and supportthe men and their families through illness or emotional setbacks.
John Meyers pressed to open a north Anne Arundel chapter because theclosest branch was in Joppa. The new chapter, of which he is commander, has 24 members and meets at American Legion Post 277 in Pasadena.Members do not have to live in the area to join the group.
For information on the chapter, contact John Meyers, 1608 Pleasantville Drive, Glen Burnie, 21061; 761-2235.