WWII POW's diary tells powerful story - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

WWII POW's diary tells powerful story

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POLAND, Ohio -

Many stories from World War II get lost as time passes, but one local soldier put his entire experience down on paper - and his daughter is making sure those stories are never forgotten.

Diane Johnson has binders full of letters and a cabinet full of medals from her dad's time in the Army, but growing up she didn't know the half of it.

"He was the most happy-go-lucky used car salesman, full of life. Everybody loved my dad," said Johnson. "But at night, he never slept well and he was stressed. It took him until we were all grown and he had great grandkids that he started explaining everything that had happened to him."

It started when one of her cousins found a diary. That is where Michael Zenn's story really came into focus.

It was the Battle of the Bulge. Mike was 24, and his 106th Infantry Division was right in the middle of it.

"We got out of the boxcar and we formed a USA in the field," the diary reads.

"So it's snowing and they laid their bodies and formed a USA to give a sign to the planes. He couldn't believe that the planes left," said Diane.

He was a prisoner of war, one of more than 7,000 declared missing in action at the time. Back home in Youngstown, his dad, Diane's grandfather, kept the faith - even when someone showed up at his door with a check, ready to declare him dead.

"He said take your check, and something about shoving it somewhere. 'When you bring me a body, I'll take your money'," said Diane.

Months went by, and Mike was indeed alive - but had very little to eat.

"He always talks about food," said Diane.

"One skilly, six spuds, and then dry rations. The dry rations consist of bread, one loaf for six boys, butter, sometimes jam and sugar."

All the while, dreaming of a ham dinner and a way out. He'd lost 60 pounds, by the time the Russians came in to help.

"I can't thank the good Lord for saving our lives and making it back to the good old USA."

A hero would return with a story that went largely untold for decades.

"This is just a common guy from the east side of Youngstown that had one thing in mind. He didn't want to shoot anybody, he had no killer instinct, he had survival instinct. That somehow, I'm going to try and get through this, and I'm going to come home and I'm going to eat ham with Aunt Mary," said Diane.

Michael Zenn died in 2009, but his story will now live on forever.

"I think it's important for our young people and our people that, even college students, for people to read and see real life stories of what it means to protect our country," said Diane.

So many little stories inside that little book. A real, first-person point of view on what it was really like to live and breathe that experience.

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