CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF
KINGSLAND — World War II Veteran and ex-prisoner of war Donald James Huisenga, 89, said hard work on a farm as a youngster prepared him for survival in a German prison camp.
“I made it because I had to live on my own ever since I was 12 years old. My folks kicked me out,” he said. “I went to go live with an uncle and an aunt. I had to go to work and go to high school. I milked 30 cows every morning by hand.”
Huisenga, who was a private first class, was captured in September 1944 in France after he became separated from a group while on patrol. He was taken to Merseberg, Germany, where he lived in captivity for eight months.
“We worked hard. We had an SS trooper over us,” Huisenga said. “He got wounded and lost an arm. He was mean.”
Huisenga was assigned to a work detail cutting wood and loading it onto trains every day with 10 other imprisoned Americans.
Huisenga, a Kingsland resident who is originally from Iowa, was one of four brothers who also served in the Army during the war. His brother Duane was killed in action after suffering shrapnel wounds.
In 1945, the 48th U.S. Army Infantry liberated him and his fellow soldiers as the war was ending.
On Memorial Day, the names of Huisenga and his brothers will be among nearly 300 names placed in balloons during a launch on Memorial Day. The event is 11 a.m. May 27 in the arena at Cross and Spurs Cowboy Church, located at RR 1431 and Lillian Dean Drive in Buchanan Dam.
“Some of them have given their life, their service to our country,” said coordinator Mamie Holbrook of the Kingsland American Legion Auxiliary Unit 437. “Some of them we know. Some we don’t know. They can know that we honored them.”
Residents can donate $1 per name with proceeds used for bingo events for veterans at the U.S. Veterans Medical Center in Kerrville. The POW and MIA names will be put in black balloons, while veterans’ names will be placed in red, white or blue balloons. Volunteers will place the names of those killed in action in gold balloons. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 15, Kingsland, TX 78639.
Huisenga, who volunteers with the Kingsland Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store, 2317 RR 1431 West, said he hopes people who find the balloons will think about the sacrifices of servicemen and women.
“I’ve got grandkids. They sit and look at all my stuff. I have to get it out for them — a compass, an old German watch and pictures. They love to have me dress up in my uniform,” he said. “If it wouldn’t have been for the veterans, we wouldn’t have our country right now. It’s important for the kids to remember.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Memorial Day balloon release
WHEN: 11 a.m. May 27
WHERE: Cross and Spurs Cowboy Church arena, located at RR 1431 and Lillian Dean Drive in Buchanan Dam