John E. Legg, 87, teacher and WWII prisoner of war

, held for a year.
, held for a year. (John E. Legg)
Posted: March 25, 2012

John E. Legg, 87, of Wayne, a retired industrial-arts teacher in the Upper Dublin School District and a World War II prisoner of war, died Thursday, March 15, at home of heart failure.

On June 13, 1944, The Inquirer reported that the parents of Staff Sgt. John E. Legg had been notified that their son, who had been missing since May 24, was a prisoner of the Germans.

Sgt. Legg, a waist gunner on B-17s, graduated from Cheltenham High School and lived in Glenside before being inducted into the Army Air Forces in 1943, The Inquirer said.

On May 30, 1945, The Inquirer reported that he had been freed.

Missing from the newspaper accounts were the details of Sgt. Legg's capture and his imprisonment. That information would not come until 2000, when he wrote an account of his experiences for the archives of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.

His wartime ordeal, he said, began when his B-17 with a 10-man crew on a bombing mission to Berlin was attacked by German fighter planes. "Their 20mm cannon fire was exploding everywhere and it shook and vibrated the plane," he wrote. "The sounds and flashes of explosions and of twisting and tearing metal was horrible."

He and his crew bailed out. After his chute opened, he saw his plane crash and burn a short distance away. He smashed into a tree, unbuckled his chute with difficulty, dropped to the ground, and was confronted by a civilian pointing a rifle at him.

Eventually, Sgt. Legg, who hurt his back and head when he escaped the plane, joined other prisoners, including four surviving members of his crew, in Ratzeburg, Germany.

The men traveled by train to Stalag Luft IV, in what is now Poland, where they remained for eight months. They passed the time playing cards and sharing "hair-raising, wild experiences of the day they were downed," Mr. Legg wrote.

Once a day, they were fed "brown bread, mostly sawdust, and horrible, sometimes wormy, cabbage, rutabaga, or kohlrabi soup."

In the first week of February 1945, with the Russians closing in, the Germans evacuated Stalag Luft IV. Sgt. Legg was one of the "lucky" ones who, instead of leaving on foot, were packed into boxcars for an eight-day journey to a camp near Nuremberg.

The men had been in the camp for a short period when it, too, was evacuated. They were then made to march 91 miles in the cold and "soaking rain" to Stalag VII-A in Moosburg.

"Here was a camp built to house about 14,000 prisoners," he wrote, "now bulging with POWs of all nationalities and rank, numbering more than 130,000 in conditions similar to another nightmare."

On April 29, 1945, the camp was liberated, and the prisoners had some "real baked white bread. I remember it tasted so good, I thought it was better than angel food cake."

Two days later, Gen. George S. Patton visited the men. "All I can remember is that he did have those two pearl-handled pistols, and he did not look tired and dirty like his troops."

Sgt. Legg was awarded an Air Medal with two Bronze Clusters and a Purple Heart.

After his discharge, he earned a bachelor's degree from what is now Millersville University in 1952. He then earned a master's degree in education in 1953 from Texas A&M University, where he was a sheet-metal instructor.

He taught industrial arts at William Penn High School in New Castle, Del., before joining the faculty of Upper Dublin High School in 1954.

At Upper Dublin he helped organize a theater arts club and made scenery for school productions. Later he taught industrial arts at Sandy Run Junior High School.

While teaching, he designed do-it-yourself kits for American Home Craft Supply Co. of Glenside. His specialties were the repair and restoration of antique furniture, but, he told a local paper, he worked in leather and ceramics as well.

He retired in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Legg crafted kitchen cabinets and built a backyard playhouse for his children at his home in Wayne and made improvements to his summer home in Ocean City, N.J. He also found time to help friends and neighbors with projects, his daughter Jo Anne Johns said.

He was a Phillies fan and enjoyed birding and traveling across the country with his wife, Frances Legg.

The couple met at Tioga Presbyterian Church and married in 1950.

Mr. Legg was a member of the Brandywine Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a daughter Janice, and two granddaughters.

Services were private. Mr. Legg was buried in Washington Crossing National Cemetery.

Donations may be made to Disabled American Veterans, Gift Processing, Box 14301, Cincinnati, Ohio 45250.


Contact Sally A. Downey

at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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