Hope Hospice honor guard to honor WWII vet
A local veteran with a remarkable story from World War II will be honored Sunday by Hope Hospice’s honor guard.
Lloyd Hicks has been living at Clare Bridge, an assisted living center in Cape Coral, for the last year.
Not only did he earn a Purple Heart and Major Star for his service during the war, but Hicks spent 2 1/2 years in a German prisoner of war camp.
Volunteers from Hope Hospice will present Hicks with a certificate of appreciation for his military service and several gifts, including a camouflage teddy bear, as part of the V.A.L.O.R. or Veterans Access for Life Opportunities and Resources program.
“The overall program is to ensure veterans get what they need,” said John Strickling, community relations director for Hope Hospice. “It is a thank you for the veterans and their family members.”
Hicks will also celebrate his 91st birthday Sunday. According to his wife, Florence, his children and grandchildren will travel to the Cape for Sunday’s event.
While Hicks has a number of rich stories to tell during the commemoration, he does not remember much of what happened in his life.
An injury distorted his memory of the war, the German prison camp and his life.
“He can’t remember very much of it now, he had a bad fall and he had a stroke, which has left him with dementia,” Florence said.
Before Hicks lost his memory, the intricate details of his experience were transcribed by retired history teacher and North Fort Myers native Bill Dillon.
Dillon went on to create a blog about Hicks’ story at: dillonshistory.blogspot.com.
“I’m so glad we were able to get it down on paper before he had this nasty fall, which created the stroke and dementia,” Florence said.
In the summer of 1941, Hicks enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a pilot at the age of 23 when it became evident that the United States would enter World War II.
He operated a B-25 “Mitchell,” one of the most widely used medium-sized bombers that had a crew of four to six airmen.
Hicks flew missions over South America, Africa and Europe during his service, but his story began on Sept. 14, 1942, when his plane was shot down. It caught fire over Egypt as Allied forces engaged in a bombing run over a German base.
An anti-aircraft missile damaged the B-25 and although Hicks and his co-pilot managed to parachute from the plane, Hicks sustained serious burns on his hands and arms.
After he was captured, he was flown to Athens and transported to Germany.
“He was badly burned and spent three months in a German hospital,” Florence said.
Hicks was treated in the hospital and continually questioned by German authorities, but his injuries precluded him from being interrogated as harshly as the others.
Eventually he was transferred to Stalag Luft III, the prison camp which inspired the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” starring Steve McQueen and James Garner.
According to the film and firsthand accounts, the prisoners of Stalag Luft III began digging three underground tunnels to escape the camp.
Florence said her husband helped to unload dirt from the tunnels to the rest of the camp by stuffing it up his pants.
“He was a ‘penguin’ who put the dirt in their pants and went out on the ground where the guys were gardening and shook the dirt from the tunnels,” she said.
Hicks stayed in captivity with other U.S. servicemen until April 1945, when parts of the 14th Armored Division of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army liberated the camp.
He later told Dillon that when they were freed, Patton personally addressed the prisoners and reportedly stood 30 feet from him.
Florence said Hicks often felt guilty about not being around his family during the war.
“He will say that, ‘I should have done more for my family,’ and I’ll say, ‘How could you? You were locked up for 2 1/2 years,'” she said.
Hope Hospice decided to honor Hicks after discovering a photograph in his room at Clare Bridge.
Florence said she framed and photographed all of her husband’s medals. Later, she hung the photograph in his room.
It was not long until it caught the eye of a Hospice pastor who reported it to the Hope honor guard.
“This all came about because I took a picture to put on his wall in his room of his medals that he got from World War II,” Florence said.