‘LUCKY’ VET­ERAN RE­CEIVES HONOR

For­mer flight engi­neer, POW ‘a sur­vivor,’ his fam­ily says

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Front Page - By Chad Fel­ton cfel­[email protected]­ald.com @be­lievethatcfnh on Twit­ter

He was “lucky” to get out alive.

Lucky to sur­vive his plane be­ing shot down, lucky the para­chute “full of holes” opened and lucky enough to have known a lit­tle bit of the Ger­man lan­guage to keep his cap­tors un­cer­tain of his iden­tity.

John E. Es­born could be luck per­son­i­fied.

He’s also a fighter and a hero, ac­cord­ing Chap­lain Charles Pahlman of Cross­roads Hospice, who, along with fam­ily and friends, hon­ored the 98-year-old Wick­liffe res­i­dent and United States Army Air Forces vet­eran Dec. 7 with a Gift of Honor recognition cer­e­mony.

“For your ser­vice to your coun­try dur­ing World War II, and for be­ing a strong ex­am­ple of pa­tri­o­tism, we gather here to­day to say thank you,” Pahlman said, sur­rounded by about a

“For your ser­vice to your coun­try dur­ing World War II, and for be­ing a strong ex­am­ple of pa­tri­o­tism, we gather here to­day to say thank you.” — Chap­lain Charles Pahlman to John E. Es­born

dozen peo­ple in­vited to Es­born’s res­i­dence.

“To­day, I think the def­i­ni­tion of the word ‘hero’ has changed. Some think it’s a bas­ket­ball player who can dunk a ball, oth­ers think it’s some­one like a fa­mous singer who can hit a note higher than other peo­ple; we think it’s the ser­vice­men and ser­vice­women who’ve fought to de­fend our free­doms, peo­ple like John.”

Humbly, Es­born ex­tended his hands to, in turn, thank his loved ones, care­tak­ers and neigh­bors who were re­galed with sto­ries of sac­ri­fice, dar­ing, pain, per­se­ver­ance and sur­vival.

“I got my no­tice from Un­cle Sam and I went in Nov. 13, 1942,” Es­born said. “I was just mar­ried six days be­fore. That’s no way to start a mar­riage.”

Serv­ing as a flight engi­neer, in ad­di­tion to other ca­pac­i­ties like waist gun­ner for the pre­de­ces­sor of the U. S. Air Force, Es­born was soon miss­ing, hav­ing no con­tact with his fam­ily for over a year af­ter his plane was shot down in 1944.

“To this day, I can’t be­lieve the ripcord worked and my chute opened be­cause it was nearly de­stroyed when we were hit just south of Vienna,” he said. “When I landed, it sounded like a shot­gun went off, loud as the bones in my feet and legs broke.”

Sep­a­rated from his com­rades who also es­caped the de­stroyed air­craft, Es­born was quickly dis­cov­ered by, as he de­scribed it, “two Ger­man teenagers in a mo­tor­cy­cle with a side­car,” who quickly took him to their com­mand­ing of­fi­cer while in­for­mally in­ter­ro­gat­ing him, as he was wear­ing no for­mal uni­form.

Es­born later eluded ex­e­cu­tion by fir­ing squad on two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, he said, by a dud car­tridge in one of the weapons and by the scant Ger­man he spoke.

“I was born and raised, mostly, in Swe­den be­fore com­ing to the United States and the Cleve­land area,” he added. “I mar­ried a Ger­man girl, so I knew enough to an­swer some of their ques­tions, and they hes­i­tated when they heard me. They thought I could give them in­for­ma­tion.

“Strange as it sounds, I felt a calm. Right then, I knew I’d done the right thing, en­list­ing to serve, and was ready, ready for any­thing. I knew my faith would carry me through. I couldn’t tell you if it did, maybe I have been lucky, but I’m here, all these years later. Maybe some­body was watch­ing over me.”

His life spared and his fu­ture un­cer­tain, Es­born be­came a POW for just un­der a year. Re­ports of his un­known

where­abouts cir­cu­lated state­side in sev­eral news pub­li­ca­tions.

Though a cap­tive, he re­ceived “good” care from Ger­man med­i­cal per­son­nel. His in­juries slowly heal­ing, Es­born was even­tu­ally lib­er­ated, as “peace was reached,” end­ing WWII. Es­born would re­ceive the Pur­ple Heart and other ac­co­lades af­ter his re­turn to the United States.

Later, Es­born would work for Lubri­zol Corp. as an engi­neer and raise a fam­ily. He’s lived in Wick­liffe for 30-plus years.

His daugh­ter-in-law, Terri, finds her “dad’s” mem­ory amaz­ing.

“It’s bet­ter than mine and a lot of other peo­ple,” she said.

“He’s just an awe­some per­son. He’s the great­est sto­ry­teller, too, be­cause he’s been through so much in his life. It feels so spe­cial to honor him and all those who fought and fight for our way of life.”

CHAD FEL­TON — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

World War II vet­eran John Es­born, left, 98, speaks with Cross­roads Hospice Chap­lain Charles Pahlman dur­ing a Gift of Honor recognition cer­e­mony held on Dec. 7. Pahlman and about a dozen oth­ers gath­ered in Es­born’s home in Wick­liffe to honor his ser­vice and sac­ri­fice.

CHAD FEL­TON — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

John Es­born’s pris­oner of war iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card

CHAD FEL­TON — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

Bob Skari­cich, left, rem­i­nisces with his friend and neigh­bor for decades John Es­born at Es­born’s res­i­dence in Wick­liffe on Dec. 7. Es­born was hon­ored by about a dozen peo­ple, from fam­ily mem­bers to care­tak­ers, dur­ing a recognition cer­e­mony for his mil­i­tary ser­vice.

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