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Two of Askov's World War II prisoners of war remembered

Askov American of Askov, Minnesota

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Two Danes from Askov spent time as prisoners of war (POWs) in the European theater during World War II, Alex Madsen and Werner Lunde. Though both have passed away, the memories of their service remain.

Madsen was the only child of Anders and Kirsten Madsen to be born in the United States. His parents entered the U.S. at Ellis Island with Alex's six siblings in tow. In a recent visit to the Pine County Historical Museum in Askov, Alex's son Darrell and his wife Norma, of Big Lake, recalled seeing the family's entry documents. Norma said Kirsten was described as a "short, plump lady" who had $30. The Madsens moved from North Dakota to Minnesota in 1916 when Alex was four.

Alex was drafted into the Army in his 30s and joined the 29th Infantry. Previously, with only an eighth-grade education, Alex had worked as a linotype operator at the Askov American and later owned Madsens' Cafe.

Lunde, one of seven children born to Hans and Kirsten Lunde, enlisted in the Army March 2, 1943. He chose the Airborne "for the $50 a month extra jump pay," said Werner's son David recently. Men volunteered to be paratroopers, he explained. Lunde, part of the 101st Airborne Division, also known as the Screaming Eagles, along with two other Askov men, Eldon Abrahamsen and Sven Christensen, parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Werner's brother Viggo had also entered the war, serving in Africa then Italy. David said both survived.


Elna, Alex's wife, received a telegram December 11 stating Alex was considered missing in action as of November 26.

On that date Alex was captured. He was the head of a motor squad which had run out of ammunition, Darrell said. "It was either give up or get shot," he added.

A post card from a prisoner of war camp, dated December 4, 1944, was sent to Alex Madsen's family noting he was a prisoner in Germany.

According to an Askov American account in the June 28, 1945, issue, shortly after his return, Alex and a number of his companions were captured near the Ruhr River in Germany, taken to Bonn and later moved to the Limburg prison camp. They were then moved again, reaching the Muhlberg camp on Christmas Eve. They received Red Cross boxes on Christmas and New Year's Day.

Meanwhile, Werner Lunde was captured by the Germans on Christmas Day of 1944 in near Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise German offensive that led to the highest American casualties of the war. Lunde was with five other men from the 101st Airborne on an outpost in an empty house in Champs, Belgium.

According to an account recorded by Lunde's daughter

Lori Willie, "The night of his capture the Germans were just going to shoot them. The older German soldier talked them out of it. Later, during captivity, Dad had the opportunity to escape. However, he was under guard by this same German soldier. When the German asked him why he didn't run, Dad replied, 'You saved my life, and if I had escaped, they would have killed you.'"

Werner recounted the time following his capture in a letter, "The ordeal lasted two weeks Again, a forced march that took another seven days till we got to our first POW camp. This was all done with no food."

Werner's mother received a telegram January 20, 1945, stating he was missing in action as of Christmas Day. Later, official word of his POW status was mailed March 29, 1945, and she also received several postcards from short wave radio operators stating Werner was a POW.

Life as prisoners According to the interview with the American, Alex Madsen was one of 200 prisoners moved to Bohn-Kamnetz in Czechoslovakia as part of a commando work group promised better food. Instead, they subsisted on rutabaga soup twice a day while walking six miles to and from the work site where Madsen mixed cement by hand with a shovel.

The grueling work and near starvation whittled the 195-pound man to 130 pounds by the time he was released from the prison camp 5Vfe months after being captured.

"The German guards weren't as gung ho as the SS troopers," recounted Darrell from his father's accounts. "The German guards had to obey but they didn't want to."

In one of the POW camps, according to a Centennial column on the war years by Aria Budd, Werner found Danish guards. She explained, "While Denmark was untouched by the bombings and destruction of the war, the little country was occupied by the Germans, and their young men were conscripted into German service under death threats to their families at home."

Recorded accounts of Werner's time as a POW state, "While in prison camp, he volunteered for work detail; this was the only way they seemed to get something to eat. This was at the end of the war when the Germans had nothing left to hardly feed themselves, so food was scarce.

Lori wrote, "The canteen came from a Danish POW, Torkild. I believe Dad had traded him a wool sweater for it because he was cold. Torkild was instrumental in getting Dad a bit more food. The Danish Red Cross heard him speaking Dane and reached out to him. Dad and Torkild stayed in touch through the years."

Later, Werner wrote recounting his experiences, "Combat was easy compared to prison camp."

Escape, release

Werner's own account explains a series of marches from one camp to another, including stays in Stalag XII, Limburg until January 26, 1945, Muhlberg 4-B until April 12, and finally to Leipzig 12-B via a four-day and night train ride.

"When we got off the train, we could hear artillery, so we knew the Americans were not too far off. That same night the Germans marched all the POWs from that camp, all but my buddy and I. We held out four days till the 69th Infantry came close enough so we could get to them. That was the 18th of April."

According to his son David, Werner said he and his buddy, C.E. Robinson, hid under the stage of a big auditorium until all the Germans were gone. Werner was finally able to send a telegram to his mother, "All safe and well, Love Werner," on May 3, 1945.

Werner's daughter Lori recounted, "Alfred Jensen, who was a neighbor, said Dad weighed 76 pounds when he returned to the States."

Alex Madsen had also been marched camp to camp, staying at the Muhlberg prison camp just before Werner Lunde, according to Budd's Centennial column. The June 1945 article described how Alex was released with others at his camp on V-E Day, May 8, 1945, after being marched several hours into the country and left. The released prisoner group often secured food from farmers and traded belongings for bread when necessary. Alex traded his watch for two loaves.

Darrell's Uncle "Louie" (Ludvig), who lived on the corner of Highways 123 and 23, heard about Alex's release at an auction. Someone handed the auctioneer a telegram which he read aloud to everyone. Darrell recalled his uncle and cousin Irvin cried when they heard the good news.

It took a while for Alex to reunite with the Americans. After crossing the Elbe, Alex and his group met up with some Russians and caught an evacuee train to Carlsbad. From Carlsbad they flew to Eger, then to Rheims by truck. Finally, a hospital train brought them to "Camp Ramp" or Recovery Allied Military Personnel. He spent three weeks with plenty of food and rest, putting on 28 pounds in three weeks, according to the account in the paper. Alex arrived in New York on June 17 and home late on June 20.

Life after war Werner Lunde married Jean Beavens July 3, 1946, and the couple had two children, David and Lori, both born and raised and still living in Askov. They raised six grandchildren between them. Werner didn't receive his POW medal until June 24, 1989, from Rep. James Oberstar at the American Legion Post 243 Hall in Askov. He passed away October 29, 1992.

David Lunde said his father told a lot of stories about the war, "Mostly the fun stuff they did." He said if he asked questions his father didn't want to talk about, "He just wouldn't answer you then."

For all his father's stories, though, David said, "He told me stay out of there unless there was a war. He didn't like the service."

Werner wrote to a friend well after the war, "I have kept kind of quiet about my capture as some feel that we didn't help win the war. But you and I and the rest of the POWs know a lot better."

Unlike Werner Lunde, Alex Madsen didn't talk about the war much. His son Darrell said, "I think he tried to block it out."

He added, "My mother said when he first came home, when it thundered and lightninged he flew out of bed."

"He was embarrassed that he was a prisoner of war," said Darrell.

Alex and Elna had three children. Alex worked for the Duluth Tribune, Minneapolis Star and many other small town newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to his obituary. He passed away November 22, 1994, in Moose Lake.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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