Foster makes special donation to museum
Rector Community Museum director Sandy Midkiff recently accepted from Kenneth Foster donations of a prisoner-of-war (POW) key, Army dog tags and related newspaper article belonging to Albert "Jabo" Edwards, Foster's uncle.
"Uncle Jabo" was Rector's ice man, delivering ice on a rural route in the 1930's and early 40's, before he was drafted into World War II at age 35 in 1942, according to Foster, retired Rector chief of police.
A sergeant in the Army, Edwards drove a supply truck for an engineering company in England during the war, helping to build roads and bridges, before being taken prisoner by the Germans, according to information in a 1986 Clay County Democrat article written by Marmaduke students Chris Reddick and Tommie Lucius.
When needed, Edwards would pick up his rifle and fight alongside the infantry men. He was involved in five major battles, including the invasion of Normandy.
Upon invading Normandy at Omaha Beach, Edwards' company traveled through France, Belgium and into Luxembourg, where they were to assist the 28th Division, who were fighting the Germans in the town of Wiltz. However, upon arriving in the town, Edwards' company discovered the Germans had either killed all the men in the division or taken them prisoner.
With the Germans surrounding the town, Edwards' commander released the company, telling them to make their way back to Belgium any way possible. However, Edwards and several others from the company, including "Put" Wagster, of Rector, were captured shortly thereafter and eventually marched 275 miles to a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in Limburg, Germany, in December of 1944.
During his journey to the camp, Edwards recalled witnessing horrifying scenes of women and children left homeless and wounded by the German shellings. He saw people with an arm or leg blown off and wanted desperately to help them, but could not as he was forced to continue marching to the camp.
While being held a prisoner, Edwards reported being beaten and nearly starved to death, going from 180 pounds at his arrival down to 115 pounds when the camp was liberated.
"We sometimes went a week without food and even when we did eat, it was usually potatoes or grass soup," said Edwards.
After spending five and a half months as a POW, Edwards recalled waking up one morning to discover the Germans had fled the prison camp. Shortly afterwards, British soldiers arrived with the news the war was over and the Allies had won. Upon hearing the news, Edwards related, "It was a feeling you could never imagine."
As he left the POW camp, he spotted a key left hanging in the prison gate and took it as a reminder of the "precious gift of freedom" he would now reclaim.
When he returned to the states at the end of the war, Edwards served out the remainder of his duty at Shepard Field, Texas, Air Force Base, and was discharged in December of 1945. He spent about a year recuperating from his POW experience to regain his health, according to Foster.
Foster recalls his uncle moving back to Rector with his wife, Tula, after the war and buying a farm near Rector, where he grew cotton and beans for a number of years, in addition to partnering with Doyne Glasgow to assist other local farmers with their crops. Edwards also went into the oil business, selling bulk gas to local stations, before retiring.
"Uncle Jabo attended several WWII reunions through the years and I recall him telling me that 'Put' Wagster of Rector was drafted about the same time as my uncle and was with him at the POW camp. He said if it hadn't been for Put, neither one of them would've survived as they kept each other motivated to stay alive and survive," said Foster.
Edwards died in May of 1988 at the age of 80 and is buried with a military plaque in the Rector cemetery. He and his wife never had children, but his brother, two sisters and several nieces and nephews, including Foster, survive and live across the south.
The key to the POW camp where he was held, along with other war mementos, will reside at the Rector Community Museum, reminders of the "precious gift of freedom" Edwards would always recall for the remainder of his life.