MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Tech. Sgt. Earl W. Haun, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war was laid to rest at the Sarasota National Cemetery while family, loved ones and service members joined to remember and honor his legacy, Oct. 2, 2018, in Sarasota, Florida.
The MacDill Air Force Base honor guard provided full military honors and a 6th Air Mobility Wing KC-135 Stratotanker conducted a flyover to salute Haun's life of selfless service and courage.
Haun was born December 23, 1922 in Killbuck, Ohio, to a WWI veteran and grew up alongside eight brothers who all served in either WWII or the Korean War.
“What’s incredible about my father’s story, is that all nine brothers went to war, and each one made it back home,” said Cathy Haun, Earl Haun’s only daughter who resides in Anza, California. “But dad went through a lot before he could make it back to the States.”
Haun enlisted in December 1942, and received a phase of bomber aircraft training at what was then known as MacDill Field in Tampa. He was assigned as a top turret gunner and flight engineer of a B-17 Flying Fortress with the 92nd Bombardment Group.
After 23 flying missions, Haun developed an ear infection and had to leave his original B-17 named “Mary Jane.” For his 24th and 25th mission, Haun flew in the “Blonde Bomber,” and his ticket back home was in reach. Upon returning from the 25th mission, Haun would have received a ticket home to the U.S., however Haun's crew was met with resistance.
“Dad and his crew were bombing oil refineries in Germany when their plane was attacked by German fighters,” recalled Cathy. “He was struck by shrapnel, and the pilot ordered my dad and the rest of the crew to parachute out.”
Haun landed in a small town square and was quickly captured by German soldiers. He was brought to Stalag Luft IV, a POW camp located in German-occupied Poland. Here, Haun would spend approximately one year as a POW, along with more than 6,000 American service members.
Conditions in the camp were far from ideal. Daily food rations consisted of bread containing bruised rye grain, sliced sugar beets, sawdust and minced leaves or straw. The camp was built to hold 6,500 prisoners, but by February 1945, that number reached close to 10,000.
It was during that winter that Haun experienced some of his worst treatment during the war.
“He mentioned he could hear gunfire in the distance, and the German soldiers instructed the POWs to gather all of their belongings,” said Haun.
With what little belongings the prisoners had, they were forced to march through 14 inches of snow in temperatures around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. With no warm clothing, more than 8,000 POWs trekked across the frozen, barren farmlands of Germany to evade the approaching Russian forces. The lives lost were comparable to the Bataan Death March, however Haun’s forced pilgrimage is known as the Black March.
The POWs were told by German personnel that the march would only last three days. For most, the march took three months. After 87 days, the prisoners covered 600 miles, during which approximately 1,500 POWs lost their lives.
In mid-1945, the German guards abandoned their weapons and fled from Allied forces. The POWs were liberated and Haun was sent to England with British forces.
He was later returned to the U.S. and from there he left the service, got married and began living his life. Eventually, Haun retired to Sarasota, Florida, where he was able to share his story with others.
"Dad was extremely proud of his service despite what had happened," said Cathy. "He was so proud that he wore his aircrew wings every single day until he died.
“It tears me up that after more than 70 years, Dad wore those wings with pride,” said Haun. “In my eyes, he was the ultimate hero.”