We should give respect where it is due

Alfred “Ben” Dreher of Bremerton lives a comfortable life these days. He and his wife of two years, Anna, live on Harbel Street. Their living room is full of colorful knick knacks with sentimental value, neatly stacked newspapers and magazines and a older, well-kept-up piano. Their living room window sports a sweeping view of East Bremerton and Port Washington Narrows against a backdrop of the beautiful Olympic Mountains.

Life was not always this pleasant.

Dreher, an Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war at the Zentsuji Camp in Shikoku, Japan.

Dreher can’t recall much about the ordeal, as he is suffering from dementia and some physical ailments.

His wife, however, was able to share Dreher’s story. And it wasn’t a pleasant one.

As a prisoner of war, he was not given food or water and had to suffer beatings during his captivity.

“He was down to 80 pounds,” she said.

To look at him now, it is hard to believe he survived such an ordeal.

When I had the chance to meet Dreher on Monday morning, he was dressed casually — a button-up shirt, a pair of slacks and a black belt — and sat in his chair, his hands folded in his lap. He said very little.

He looked so peaceful, so comfortable. I talked to him for about five minutes, then chatted with Anna for a few more. When I looked back over at Dreher, he was sound asleep. There was a childlike innocence about him while he slept. I realized that while he is just one person, there are thousands more veterans of WW II who are all but a distant memory.

These men and women who lived through WW II are living history books who can give first-person accounts of some of the most amazing events in history. Dreher, for example, was less than 20 miles away from Hiroshima, Japan, when the United States dropped the atomic bomb. That accounts for his loss of hearing.

For some reason, we have all but lost interest in WW II and those who served in that war.

“Young people don’t want to hear about it,” Anna said. She guessed it was because today’s younger folks look at WW II as no longer being significant — it’s just something we read about in history books.

That is an unfortunate truth.

Dreher is one of those to whom we owe our freedom today. No matter the political stance or personal opinion on war, sometimes it is a necessary evil to defend a way of life. To those who answered the call, like Dreher, we owe a debt of gratitude.

But what does he get for defending his country and for being held as a prisoner of war for three and a half years in Japan?

He gets his name on a few lists, including the one at www.mansel.com, which lists the American prisoners of war at Zentsuji Camp from 1942-45.

DREHER, Alfred B., Capt., U.S.A. (Ord.).

That’s all it says.

He answered the call.

Now it’s our turn.

We owe him and the men and women he served with more than that. A memorial to he and his comrades isn’t too much to ask.

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