Saving a Memory
Glenn King has told his heroic story for decades. It took Sue Johnpeter to put it to paper.
Every day, Glenn King stared at his can of tuna from the Red Cross and asked himself if he could survive without eating it. Despite the single bowl of thin, weevil-infested bean soup and 1-inch cube of bread that passed for three squares a day in the German prisoner of war camp, King’s answer was always the same. Yes.
It was 1945. Lt. King, a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces, had been shot down March 2 near Oschatz, Germany, during his 23rd bombing mission. For three weeks he’d been starving in the Nuremberg camp. His blood pressure was so low he’d black out if he stood up quickly. Even joking about food was forbidden. Yet King, 21, held onto his tuna. “You know, I can make it today,” he’d tell the can. “I’m going to save you for tomorrow.”
King was force-marched 100 miles to a prisoner camp in Moosburg where he was liberated by Gen. George Patton April 29, 1945, eight days before Germany surrendered. Many of his fellow soldiers looted the town and countryside for souvenirs. Not King. He had his tuna fish.
Over the next 70 years, King told his story countless times. Many people who heard it urged him to write a book. He always demurred. He preferred to tell it.
Enter Sue Littell Johnpeter, BJ ’77.
A newspaper and magazine writer early in her career, Johnpeter attended the same large Naperville, Illinois, church as King. When the pastor talked about King’s war experience one Sunday, she sought out King. At the urging of her husband, she asked if King was interested in working with her on a book.
King, who in 1943 attended the Army Air Forces College Training Program held at Mizzou, agreed.
After four months of interviews and five months of writing and editing — with the assistance of friend and mentor Barbara Luebke, PhD ’81, former journalism professor at Mizzou — No Ordinary Life: Memoir of a World War II Bombardier (CreateSpace, 2014) was published.
“She pulled stuff out of me that I had tucked away,” says King — some of which he hadn’t even told his wife.
“A lot of the things were not easy to hear,” Johnpeter says. “You see someone who suffered at the hands of the Germans, but he’s not a person to harbor hatred. That gives the measure of a person.”