ST. ALBANS, W.Va. — Donald Shearer doesn’t complain much.
Having spent several months as a prisoner of war during World War II, the 92-year-old from St. Albans knows that life is pretty good.
“I was cold, I was hungry and I was nearly scared to death,” he recalled last week as he sat in the cozy, well-kept home he shares with his wife of 63 years, Martha. “I told myself if I’m never cold, hungry and scared to death, I won’t complain. So I never complain.”
Shearer is among the proud living veterans of World War II whom, along with thousands of American veterans from all conflicts, are celebrated today for their service and valor. He was recently honored at a ceremony for local prisoners of war, hosted by the Huntington VA Medical Center, and has numerous times been asked to speak about his experiences, sharing his story in this country and in Europe. He traveled to Europe earlier this year to be part of the dedication of a new memorial established in his honor for the airmen who were imprisoned at Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
His imprisonment occurred in the second half of 1944 and the first part of 1945, ending along with the war itself. The story begins in July 1944, when he survived a strike on his bomber plane.
U.S. Air Force Sgt. Shearer was 22 years old and serving as a waist gunner on a B-26 Marauder. He had completed 46 missions, nearing his requirement of 50, when he was on a mission in northern France and his plane was struck and shot down.
Shearer remembers trying to jump from the plane and not being able to move. He doesn’t know if it was fear or force. All he remembers is not being able to jump.
“To this day, I don’t know how I got out,” he said. “The next thing I know, I’m falling head down, face up, and I saw a little white chute coming up past my feet. It felt good…