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Former prisoners of war honored at VA luncheon

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SALT LAKE CITY — Jack Johnston told a group of former prisoners of war Friday that as an illustrator for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, his memories of that war may be a little different from most veterans.

"I remember the lovely things about what we were doing to save lives and to protect the people that we were to protect," Johnston said. "We were there to protect the people in our country. But no one protected them like the heroes who are here today."

Ten of Utah's former POWs from World War II and the Vietnam War were honored for their service on National POW Recognition Day at an event co-sponsored by the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, and the Salt Lake City VA hospital and regional office.

"A lot of volunteer hours go into it," said Adam Kinder, public affairs officer for the Salt Lake City Regional Offices of Veterans Benefit Administration.

Kinder said the group sent out 60 invitations to living POWs and the widows of deceased former POWs. Ten living former POWs attended the lunch, as well as a few widows.

The veterans and their families enjoyed lunch while sharing their war stories.

Ted Kampf couldn't remember whether he was 17 or 18 years old when he became part of the Army and was shipped off to the Philippines in 1941.

At 19, Kampf was captured in the Philippines and spent 3 ½ years as a prisoner of war, he said.

"That's a lifetime when you're in a place like that," he said.

Kampf, once a boxer, said he used to weigh 180 pounds. At one point during his captivity, he weighed a mere 78 pounds.

After the war, Kampf joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force, and continued his service until the early 1960s, he said.

Kampf said he appreciated being honored at the luncheon.

"I think it's nice, after going through all of this, to have somebody even care," he said. "It makes a lot of difference."

Kinder said the luncheon is a good reminder of what the prisoners of war endured.

"Sometimes we tend to forget sacrifices these gentlemen went through, so I think it brings to the forefront, gets it back in everyone's mind like a refresher," Kinder said.

Email: elarson@deseretnews.com