Jaycox was POW in German camps
SANBORN, Iowa -- More than six decades after the war's end, one thing still makes Marion "Jay" Jaycox choke up.
To the World War II veteran, the American flag symbolizes not only the liberation of others, but also his own freedom.
Jaycox had been a prisoner of war for more than two months when U.S. troops arrived in Augsburg, Germany, on April 29, 1945, and the sight of Old Glory still stirs memories of that day.
He was a POW almost as long as he was in combat.
Jaycox was drafted several years after his 1939 high school graduation in his hometown of Crawford, Neb. He attended Wayne State Teachers College for two years, earning his certification to teach in Nebraska, and later taking a teaching job in a Jackson County (Minn.) rural school.
In December 1943, he was drafted and inducted into the armed services in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Following his basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., he joined the 100th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army and traveled to Fort Brigg, N.C., for advanced gunman training.
In October 1944, after battling hurricanes aboard the USS Gen. W. H. Gordon, Jaycox and the 5,000 troops traveling with him landed in Marseilles, France.
The contingent took a train to southern France, entering combat Nov. 9.
"It was our mission to liberate Bitche, France," Jaycox remembered.
And so they later would, but Jaycox had already been captured by German troops.
"They knew I was coming," he said of the enemy soldiers.
Shortly after Jaycox's squad leader disappeared, Jaycox was named leader. While on a routine patrol, Jaycox, his assistant squad leader and another soldier ran into German troops expecting their arrival. The Americans fired, and the assistant squad leader escaped. The other soldier was shot, and Jaycox was hiding in a ditch when he found himself staring down the barrels of several German guns.
He was taken to a POW camp in Moosburg, Germany, where he joined 135,000 other prisoners from England, Russia and other allied countries. There were no hot meals, no toilet tissue and only a couple showers during his 70 days in captivity.
"It was one of the coldest winters in Germany," he recalled. "We would sleep on the floor with icicles freezing next to our heads. I still have frostbite and cancers on the tips of my ears from that."
The prisoners were packed 50 to a railcar and shipped across the country, using their helmets for toilets and going days without a stop.
"We stopped for a break in Frankfurt, but they had to put us back on the train because the people there would have hanged us. The German soldiers saved us, really," he said.
When he wasn't traveling by rail, he marched. Jaycox estimated he walked between 200 and 300 miles in a month's time and lost more than 30 pounds while he was a prisoner.
When he was liberated, he boarded a ship back to Boston and spent several weeks on convalescence before returning for duty.
"I told them I wouldn't pick up a rifle again, and I didn't," he said.
Jaycox finished his tour as a staff sergeant in California before his discharge on Dec. 5, 1945.
He and a friend hitchhiked as far as Nebraska before catching a bus home. After a short stint working alongside his brother at Montgomery Ward in Spencer, Iowa, the two decided to start a business venture, buying the building that would become Jay's Restaurant and Lounge in Sanborn.
He married wife Marilynn in 1946; she died in 2002. The couple had three children, Nancy, Steve and Terry; eight grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
"And that is my biggest and proudest accomplishment," he said of his offspring.
Some of his family was with him on a trip to the East Coast earlier this month, when he was given two great honors: a Medal of Excellence presented by the current general of the 100th Infantry Division; and the opportunity to place a wreath on George Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon -- an honor shared with an exclusive group of U.S. presidents and dignitaries.
The trip was the 47th and final reunion of the 100th Infantry Division. Jaycox is also a member of the Iowa Great Lakes chapter of Prisoners of War and a member of the "Sons of Bitche," the contingent that liberated the French town 65 years ago.
Such affiliations have helped the healing process for the ex-POW, who once desired to shutter his wartime experiences in the past.
In 1992, he spent three weeks retracing his steps through Europe, traveling with friends for support during the emotional tour.
"We went back in 2005 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Bitche," he added. "The people there were so appreciative. The children wrote us notes thanking us for liberating their grandpas and grandmas."