WWII POWs finally recognized as heroes

WASHINGTON - CBS News reported earlier about a group of American airmen held prisoner during World War II, and the battle to get them the recognition that had long been denied them.

On Thursday, that recognition finally came.

Thousands of U.S. airmen serving as pilot and crew members flew bombing missions into the heart of Nazi Germany during World War II. Among them was Lt. Col. James Misuraca.

"We were told when we flew a mission if you get in trouble today over Germany and you can't make it back, go to Switzerland," said Misuraca.

Forgotten WWII POWs finally honored
Switzerland was a neutral country and considered safe. So that's where Misuraca's B-24 bomber headed after it was badly hit. He and his fellow crew members were detained by the Swiss military. When they tried to escape, they were sent to an internment camp.

After the war, many dismissed the men as cowards who had hidden in Switzerland to avoid combat.

That did not sit well with Army Maj. Dwight Mears, whose grandfather, Lt. George Mears, was imprisoned there. The Iraq War veteran spent 15 years researching what happened to the airmen, and made the case to the Air Force that they deserved recognition.

"They were left with the perception that what they had done was dishonorable. What I wanted to do was to reverse that stigma and to show these airmen that the country appreciated what they did," Mears said.

U.S. airmen who landed in neutral Switzerland after their plane was damaged in a World War II bombing raid were imprisoned in an internment camp. CBS News
On Wednesday, the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, awarded prisoner of war medals to Misuraca and eight others in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

"You'll have to forgive me," an emotional Welsh said. "This is an incredible honor to be standing on the stage with these guys."

The general called the men courageous and told their families their lives were the legacy of that courage.

"It's something that I've been looking forward to for the last 15 years," said Misuraca. "It's occuppied a large part of my life."

James Misuraca, far right, and eight other men were finally honored for their service and their time as POWs during World War II. CBS News

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.