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21Country: Stories of local POWs detailed in new book by Bluffton author

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Bluffton, Ind. (WPTA21) - “When my mom handed me the stuff, I was like ‘why didn’t we know about this?’” Judy Johnson said, describing the moments she learned her father was a POW during WWII.

That was just a few years ago.

“My brother and I weren’t told about any of this,” she continued, “she never gave me a reason but it was never discussed.”

Johnson is talking about the impressive stack of World War II writings and articles that covered the same time period her father served.

“Looks like an obsession to me,” she told us.

In her Bluffton home, Johnson has spent hours pouring over each document: journals, newspaper clippings, pictures, discharge papers, etc.

Her family only recently understanding the pain and suffering Workman endured as a young man - boy, really - having illegally enlisted in the army at just 15-years-old.

“He had all kinds of diseases: malaria, beriberi,” she told us, “if they got sick and looked like he would die, they would just throw them underneath the barracks.”

Workman was a prisoner of the Japanese Army in the Philippines for 41 months.

When we was finally freed, he was extremely malnourished, and weighed just 98 pounds.

The teenager survived the Bataan Death March… though ten thousand prisoners alongside him, did not.

Johnson approached author Kayleen Reusser, asking her if she was interested in writing about Workman’s story.

Reusser has published several books about WWII, though she almost always interviews the veterans whose stories she tells.

For Workman, Reusser took on the challenger of adapting his journals, scribbled on paper after nightmares years after the war, into a story made for print.

“From interviewing vets and talking to their own children,” Reusser said, “a lot of times the vets came home and never spoke about the war.”

“I got this journal, of course this was after the war, that he wrote the journal and he remembered a lot,” she continued, “it was actually like reading a book. It just needed some editing.”

Workman’s story would become a big part of Reusser’s newest book Captured! Stories of American World War II Prisoners of War.

Eight veterans, including workman detailed the events they saw unfold while POW’s.

“They just believed tomorrow I’ll get rescued,” Reusser told us, “or the next day, or next week I’ll get rescued.”

Making Workman’s story public was only part of Johnson’s goal.

Now she hopes to find a way to preserve her father’s collection for generations to come.

“Since I’ve gotten all this stuff, I’ve tried to figure out how can I preserve it,” she told us, “how I can pass it along so people knew what went wrong over there? Because his writings are so explicit on things that happened.”

Reusser commented on the value of the documents, “It was pretty raw. It was in his own voice, his own words, and to me? It’s like a treasure.”

For more information on Kayleen Reusser and her work, you can visit her website here.

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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