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Resident who helped in WWII escape dies


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#1 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 17 May 2008 - 04:45 PM

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Don Eldredge


Resident who helped in WWII escape dies
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff




Stalag Luft III may be best known to World War II buffs. But the film "The Great Escape," based on a true story of what happened there, is much more familiar to the general public.
Don Eldredge, a longtime Deerfield resident who lived for the past three years at The Park at Vernon Hills, saw it first-hand. His stay at the prison camp is a particularly riveting chapter in a full life filled with big names.
Eldredge, 88, died Monday. Visitation is from 2 to 6 p.m. today at the Burnett-Dane Funeral Home Ltd. in Libertyville.
A big man with a booming voice and friendly but unassuming air, the Chicago native worked for Rand McNally for 35 years, rising from traveling salesman to vice president of the Trade Division.
It was in that job that he collaborated with the likes of adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, who wrote "Kon-Tiki"; mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to scale Mount Everest; and, five-star Gen. Omar Bradley, the first officer assigned as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"He was very modest, very understated. One quick to get the job done but not one to bask in the glory," said his daughter, Joan Lombardi.
His defining moment came as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, the precursor of the Air Force.
After a successful bombing raid on submarine pens, his damaged B-17 bomber was shot down in the English Channel. He spent more than two years as a prisoner of war.
He wound up in Stalag Luft III, a so-called escape-proof German prison camp. The construction of an elaborate tunnel system was chronicled in the 1963 film "The Great Escape" starring Steve McQueen.
Though in another part of the compound, Eldredge helped in the effort by concealing tunnel dirt in a sock and releasing it on the grounds. He also was among the prisoners who assembled a radio to obtain "real news" to spread to others in camp.
At one point, the poorly supplied and clothed prisoners were taken on a "death march" in winter to another camp to avoid advancing Allied troops, Lombardi said. Prisoners squirreled away maps on rice paper, which could be eaten if discovered. Lombardi still has those, she said.
Marchers died en route, and conditions at the new location in Moosburg were worse until Allied forces arrived on April 29, 1945, to liberate them.
"He saw Gen. (George) Patton with a cigar hanging out of his mouth," Lombardi said of her father, who finished his military career with the rank of captain. For the rest of his life, Eldredge marked the anniversary of the day he was shot down and the day he was set free.
The Lombardi children never asked about his war experiences, thinking it would be too painful for him to discuss.
"Years later, we found out he didn't talk about it much because he didn't want to be the old man telling war stories," she said. Ultimately, those memories were put to paper in a memoir now in the Library of Congress.
He was active in several community activities, including past president of the Rotary, a member of the Deerfield school district board and elder at the First Presbyterian Church.
He is survived by five children and nine grandchildren.

Daily Herald | Resident who helped in WWII escape dies
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.

#2 Skipper

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 08:47 AM

May he R.I.P. :poppy:

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