Firsthand accounts from World War II are getting harder to come by, but a former prisoner of war is finally sharing his story near the end of his life.
Spring Hill resident Michael Fleischmann spent more than seven months in a German prison camp during the war.
A total of 73 years later, and Michael Fleischmann vividly recalls the night of his capture in 1944.
“There was a house down in this valley," says Fleischmann. "Our commanding officer said, ‘I want that house for a base.’ And when we got in the house, the Germans fired on us. When the ammunition ran out, there was nothing we could do but surrender.”
For someone who is 96, Fleischmann is sharp. He doesn’t remember everything that happened during his time as a prisoner, but there are things he says he’ll never forget — like the time he took a bullet to the neck, just before he was captured.
"A bullet must’ve hit the wall or something and bounced off and hit me," he says. "I felt up there, looked at it, and I had a handful of blood. I couldn’t talk for about two weeks.”
Fleischmann’s memories from the camp are graphic: fleas that never went away, German shepherds that would drag sick men from their beds when they couldn’t stand for roll call. They’re memories he’s reluctant to relive.
And despite the passing of time, Fleischmann admits that he still has nightmares of the war. His son-in-law Mike Mikula, who lives with Fleischmann in Spring Hill, says they can even get violent.
“At the end of the bed we have cushions because he still has dreams to this day," says Mikula. "I mean, you’re talking almost 75 years later he kicks out and cries out.”
But time seems to soften the blow of remembering — at least that was the case for Fleischmann.
After many tight-lipped years, Fleischmann is speaking up more often, he says, because stories like his are disappearing. Less than 5 percent of World War II veterans are still alive, and even fewer are former POWs. Fleischman says he realized this at POW meetings.
“When I first started going to those monthly meetings, there were probably about 25, maybe 30 — somewhere around there," he says. "But when I left, there were only about four or five left altogether.”
His daughter, Kathy Mikula, says that she only knew bits and pieces of her father’s story. Mikula is finally seeing the bigger picture, and she says it’s been eye-opening.
“For many years dad never shared with us," she says. "And I know it was difficult for him as a prisoner of war. I guess it’s just been interesting to see that piece of his life he endured. We’re tremendously proud of him.”
Michael Fleischmann’s days of service are decades behind him. But for Fleischmann and the last living men of his kind, the war hasn’t faded.
“The memories are all there," says Fleischmann. "You never forget.”