Former WWII POW had powerful story to tell

  • Sat Mar 6th, 2010 10:09pm
  • News

By Kristi O’Harran Herald Writer

If the party was at 6 p.m., it was always better to tell Chester McPherson to arrive at 6:30 p.m. That way he might be on time.

Folks who are always early, and pace outside the party door, can be annoying.

His son, Jack McPherson of Mill Creek, said early arrivals might have been prompted by his father’s stay in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.

“They had to eat fast,” said his son, Jack McPherson. “Dad would always eat fast and say, ‘Let’s go.’”

His father spent decades not speaking about the horror he lived through, then kindly wrote “Stalag XVIIB POW, My Story,” for the edification of his family.

Chester F. McPherson, 86, died Feb. 12 in Everett. He was born March 6, 1923, to C.F. McPherson Sr. and Helen McPherson in the District of Columbia and raised in Philadelphia.

He is survived by sons Jim McPherson and his wife, Leili, of Cambria, Calif.; Jack McPherson and his wife Deborah; Barry McPherson of Mill Creek; and a daughter, Cheryl McPherson of San Jose, Calif.; grandchildren Kristin, Leslie, Barry Jr., Deanna, and Tiffany; great-grandchildren Taylor, Connor, Dakota, Madeline, Isabella and Scarlet.

He was preceded in death by wife Annamae McPherson and their daughter of 16 months, Joan Marie, who died in 1961.

When he finally sat down to recall war memories, images were sharp and poignant. McPherson was shot down April 2, 1944, Palm Sunday, in a B-17H, on his 26th bombing mission. They were trying to destroy a ball bearing factory in Stere, Austria.

Injured parachuting to the ground, he lived by eating snow and staying in barns until he was captured April 7, 1944.

“I was 21 years old,” McPherson wrote in his book.

At the camp in Austria, he ran into Joe Geiger. They had graduated together from Haverford High School in South Ardmore, Penn. Geiger was helping build an escape tunnel, which was soon discovered, and McPherson and those left from his Army Air Corps crew were scattered to different barracks.

Life was bleak for more than a year. They had no clean clothes. Rickety barracks let in rain and snow. Goods mailed from home seldom made it inside. Bread served once a day was made from potatoes and sawdust that left splinters in mouths. They also got rutabaga or soybean soup tainted with bugs.

He survived a 20-day, 135 mile march to a new camp, fed only six bowls of soup along the way.

Nothing was more beautiful than the sounds of rescue by Gen. George Patton’s 13th Armored Division.

He weighed 95 pounds.

Back in Pennsylvania, McPherson married. In the mid 1950s the family moved to Redwood City, Calif., where he worked for United Airlines.

In the mid 1980s they followed their twin sons to Mill Creek, where they developed land into a family compound.

“He was good with his hands,” Jack McPherson said. “He could build anything.”

His father loved working in his wood shop, taking his wife to tap dancing classes, playing computer games, reading Western novels and watching “MASH” reruns on TV.

Chester McPherson loved sweets and dogs, particularly Huskies and St. Bernards, He wore casual clothes but always looked sharp and told jokes to everyone.

Decades later, McPherson returned to Europe with his son, Jim, and Jim’s wife, Leili.

“Dad enjoyed these trips and liked to take pictures of everything,” Jim McPherson said. “I will always remember him pausing to rest his legs, but also looking to see what would be the best camera angle for his next shot.

And he said he still loves to cook his Dad’s favorite barbecued chicken recipe.

LeAnna West got to know Chester McPherson when he lived at Clare Bridge at Silver Lake. The life-enrichment coordinator said he was a very social man.

“When music was on the schedule, Chester was one of the first men to come down for the event,” West said. “He would make sure he had a great seat, and one next to a pretty lady. He was a charmer. Chet may not have had rhythm any longer but he sure knew how to get down and boogie.”

McPherson whistled patriotic songs in the hallways.

She took a group to breakfast one morning in Lynnwood.

“Over eggs and waffles, Chester and another resident compared their stories of being shot down during the war over enemy territory. Not only was I entranced, but the entire restaurant was listening as they recounted their stories. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the whole place.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.