Edward R. Yurka never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on March 15, 1918 in Nebraska. His parents Frank and Mary were both born in Bohemian Czechoslovakia when it was part of Austria Hungry. His father worked as a farmer. Edward had two older brothers, two older sisters, and one younger sister. At least one of his brothers became a WW2 vet. By 1940 Edward had completed four years of high school and was working on the family farm.
He was drafted into the army on February 18, 1941 and volunteered for the Army Air Forces where he became a sergeant and waist gunner in the 705th Bombardment Squadron, 446th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force, which was equipped with B-24 Liberators.
Sgt. Yurka was the left waist gunner on July 12, 1944 in the B-24 Guess Who's Here when it was hit by flak and went down near Neuburg, Germany. The pilot and navigator were killed but Sgt. Yurka and the other seven airmen was captured. Sgt. Yurka was sent to Stalag Luft IV in Pomerania, Prussia.
With the approach of the Russians in February 1945 the 8,000 POWs at Stalag Luft IV were marched west under brutal conditions. Despite being in weakened state, having lost on average a third of their pre-capture body weight, the POWs were forced to walk up to 20 miles a day and covered more than 400 miles in what became known as The Black March. Sgt. Yurka and the others arrived at Stalag IX-B near Fallingbostel in early April. American and British forces were getting closer from the west. The POWs could hear the sound of artillery. After a week, the Germans moved the prisoners out again, this time marching them east. They had no food and were in much weaker condition and were only able to cover about five miles a day. Sgt. Yurka died during this march on April 14, 1945.
His grave is at Virginia Cemetery in Virginia, Nebraska.
Last year on this date I profiled B-25 tail gunner Tony Shubat. You can read about Tony here.
On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!
I created this video to explain why I started this project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXt8QA481lY.
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