Family dinner is time for parents, kids to reconnect

World War II veteran Alvin Nelson didn't know how to use a parachute when he grabbed one and jumped out of a B-17 that was under enemy fire over Germany in 1944.

He got stuck in a tree, was captured, and spent 13 months in a concentration camp, the 87-year-old former flight engineer said.

As the war was winding down, the Germans were killing and cremating many of the prisoners, Nelson said. The cremation oven broke down during the last days before liberation, he said. If it hadn't, he believes he would have been killed.

He was alive on May 8, 1945, the day the camp was liberated. It was his 22nd birthday.

Nelson was among the area's prisoners of war and missing in action honored at an annual luncheon Friday at the Joint Base Charleston.

His wife, Agnes, who Alvin calls his "commanding officer," helped her husband of 54 years tell the story. She's heard it many times over the years. She calls his survival a miracle.

He was alive to help her one day when she was a young woman and her car broke down, she said. "It was love at first sight."

The couple has had a wonderful life, she said, and both of them have seen many of their dreams come true, including owning a blueberry farm in Moncks Corner.

One of her husband's greatest dreams was to meet Vanna White, Agnes said, and that finally happened not long ago. Vanna even kissed him on the cheek, she said, and she wasn't even jealous.

Thomas Kistler, a spokesman for the base, said South Carolina POWs from all branches of the service and from all conflicts were invited to the luncheon. It's important to remember them and honor them, he said. And it's also important for young servicemen and women to meet them. POWs' experiences and service are inspiring, he said.

Al Mitro, 91, spent more than three years in a Japanese labor camp after his ship was sunk near Caballo Island, at the entrance to Manila Bay in the Pacific Ocean, in 1942.

He worked as a "slave laborer," from morning until night loading and unloading box cars, he said. He survived by stealing rice and beans from the boxes he was handling, he said. Prisoners not only stole food, he said. They did their best to damage any materials they thought might be used in combat.

He watched many prisoners die, he said, as they gave up the fight to survive.

"I was too stubborn to give up," the Hanahan resident said.

Paul Hollen, 87, parachuted from a B-17, which was shot down over Germany in 1945. He ended up face-down in a snow-covered field with a serious back injury.

German soldiers ran to him and shouted at him to "Roust!"

He can still hear their voices shouting, "Roust!" he said. When he couldn't get up, a soldier hit him in the back with the butt of a rifle.

He spent the next six months in a camp in Moosburg, Germany, until the camp was liberated.

Hollen has lived in South Carolina since 1957, and now lives on the Isle of Palms.