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Pilgrimage of honor

Bruce Pfann ’59, a two-time lacrosse midfield All-America and football letterman, and leading ’58 running back Terry Wilson ’59, an All-Ivy, were in a Maine ice cream shop when they noticed a diner wearing an Eighth Air Force cap.

The man in the cap was the former Lt. John Richard (Dick) Welch, a 92-year-old U.S. Army Air Force veteran of the 91st Bomb Group who had been based in England before D-Day in 1944. Welch told them about his career as a 24-year-old bombardier shot down over Berlin.

Welch was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, in Sagan, Germany, a prisoner of war camp for airmen – the camp from which British soldiers tunneled out in the film “The Great Escape.” As Russian liberators drew near Sagan, Hitler ordered the Sagan POWs moved in a death march to another camp in Nurnberg in heavy snow.

The camp was liberated April 29, 1945, by Americans including Gen. George S. Patton. Bruce Pfann’s father, George Pfann ‘24 – Big Red’s quarterback 1921-23 who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, a Rhodes scholar and Cornell trustee – was on Patton’s staff.

Welch told Pfann and Wilson that he’d like to see the World War II memorial in Washington and the Air and Space Museum at the National Mall. Pfann and Wilson enlisted Chi Psi brothers to make the trip possible, and they visited the capital together Oct. 27.

The donors created a certificate reading: “In Recognition of Your Service, Dedication and Sacrifice to the citizens of the United States of America and as part of the Greatest Generation, this certificate is awarded to Lt. John Richard Welch by the 1959 Class of Alpha Psi of Chi Psi, Cornell University and others who are so profoundly proud and humbled by your efforts during WWII as a B-17 Bombardier. Having been shot down on your 18th mission, spending a year in a German POW camp and surviving it all to return to your country, the United States of America, you are an example of what America is all about. As Americans, we could never repay you enough for your commitment to our country, freedom and mankind. You are a credit to your heritage and this recognition comes with our gratitude, our love and our heartfelt thanks. God Bless You.”

– adapted from an article by Jim Hanchett ’53

 

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