John R. Donahoe, 88; postal official, WWII prisoner

Posted: July 28, 2012

John R. Donahoe, 88, of Doylestown, a World War II prisoner of war who became a postal official in Germantown and Elkins Park, died at Abington Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, July 24, after a fall.

From December 1944 to April 1945, Mr. Donahoe was either in a prisoner of war camp or escaping from one, son Richard said in an interview.

While the German army pressed through the Ardennes forest, his son said, Mr. Donahoe "had been left in a forward position to give cover fire as his unit retreated.

"He was cut off. He and two other soldiers went in a small town, hid in the basement."

When they saw other Americans shot while trying to surrender, "they stayed in hiding for three days" before finally going upstairs and startling German soldiers at lunch.

The three were taken prisoner, and Mr. Donahoe was sent from camp to camp as the Allies advanced.

Mr. Donahoe escaped twice, "once from a work detail, and was recaptured by a German farmer," his son said, before being liberated a month before the European war ended in May 1945. He later received several military awards.

When he returned to the States, he went back to Oklahoma, where he had met his future wife at a USO dance while he was in military training. They married in Tulsa and moved to Philadelphia.

Born in Ashland, Schuylkill County, Mr. Donahoe was his senior class president at the former St. Joseph High School there.

After working at a chemical plant in New Jersey, Mr. Donahoe was drafted into the Army.

Daughter Margaret Bythrow said in an interview that Mr. Donahoe studied engineering at Drexel University before beginning a 41-year career with the U.S. Postal Service.

After beginning as a mail carrier, she said, Mr. Donahoe was a postal manager in Germantown, East Germantown, and Elkins Park.

Mr. Donahoe was a commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Jenkintown in 1976, 1977, and 1978 and chief of the Ogontz Fire Company in Elkins Park, where he was chief for five years and president for five years, his daughter said.

He was a member of the Pioneer Fire Company in Jenkintown for 25 years, she said, and a Scripture reader at Masses at Immaculate Conception Church in Jenkintown.

Besides his son and daughter, Mr. Donahoe is survived by daughters Maribeth Gilligan, Joann Desris, Kathie, Theresa, Rosie Lang, Dyan Hegerich, and Ceal Corbett; a brother; a sister, 30 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. His wife, Irene, died this year

A visitation was set from 9 a.m. Saturday, July 28, at Immaculate Conception Church, 602 West Ave., Jenkintown, before a 10:30 a.m. Funeral Mass there, with burial in St. John Neumann Cemetery, Chalfont.

Contact Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or

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