The Northern Westchester Examiner

National Former POW Recognition Day Marked in Cortlandt

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A ceremony to mark National Former Prisoner of Way Recognition Day was held in the Town of Cortlandt last week.

The event was led by the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to recognize April 9 as the presidentially proclaimed observance of prisoners of war. It was first established by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.

“Cortlandt loves and respects our veterans at all times,” said Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi at Town Hall. “These heroes deserve a day of recognition.”

As of January 22, 2019, there was a reported 1,589 prisoners of war missing in action.

Brigadier General Michel Natali, who has served 31 years in the military, spoke of his grandfather, Private Michael Natali, an Italian immigrant who served in World War I after being drafted in April 1918. He was captured four months later and left the military in 1919.

“His story gave me an appreciation of sacrifice and service,” Natali said.

The featured speaker at the ceremony was Norman Bussel, a 96-year-old resident of Mohegan Lake who served in World War II as a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Corps.

At 20 years old, Bussel, working as a radio operator/gunner, was on a B-17 bomber airplane with four other crew members in Berlin when it was struck by enemy fire and turned into a raging inferno. Bussel managed to jump out of the plane before it exploded and landed in a yard where he was captured.

“I was seven seconds away from eternity,” Bussel said.

He was eventually rescued by a soldier but the experience of being a prisoner of war and trauma of being the only member of his crew to survive still haunts him as he comes upon the 75th anniversary (April 29, 1944) of that harrowing day.

“Survivor guilt never goes away,” he said. “It has been my road map for 75 years. I hate the Fourth of July. I’m also claustrophobic because of being in solidarity confinement.”

Bussel he has been active for more than 20 years in the Hudson Valley Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War (AXPOW) serving as Trustee, Adjutant and Commander. He also has held positions in the national organization as public relations director and as committee member.

His book, “My Private Way—Liberated Body…Captive Mind,” was published in November 2008 by Pegasus Books.

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