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Community rallies around local WWII veteran and gives him the trip of a lifetime

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BLACKFOOT (KPVI) – The Blackfoot community is rallying around a local veteran and working to give him the trip of a lifetime. The veteran was a prisoner of war during World War II and his trip will take him all the way to Georgia to see a flag he signed 75 years ago after being liberated.

Dozens of people filled Patriot Field in Blackfoot Friday afternoon to honor the biggest patriot in town.

“I’m no hero. I’m a survivor.”

That’s what 96-year-old Fred Woodland told the crowd of more than 100 people. He’s a World War II veteran and is humble when it comes to recognizing his efforts to make America a safer place for all to live. However, all those in attendance including the mayor, a state representative and his grandson, Trent, believe otherwise.

“From the time I was a little kid, he’s always been my hero,” Trent Woodland told the audience.

At 19, Mr. Woodland enrolled in the military. At the time, the United States was at war.

“I weighed about 140 (pounds) at that time,” states Woodland. Due to Mr. Woodland’s smaller physical stature, he was the perfect fit to be a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber plane.

On his seventh mission, Germans shot down his plane. Woodland was ejected from the aircraft and landed in enemy territory. He survived a few days on his own before being captured.

“My twenty-first birthday I spent in a P.O.W. camp just outside Nuremberg,” Mr. Woodland adds.

Woodland would spend the next few months of his life living as a prisoner of war, but then “Patton’s 14th Armored (Division) came through and there was a little firing but I had a front-row seat. That’s when we were liberated,” Woodland says.

Woodland, and all those in the camp, signed a Nazi flag to celebrate their liberation.

Now — 75 years later — that flag lives in the Mighty Eighth Museum in Georgia which is the reason for Mr. Woodland’s celebration.

The community raised money and is sending the Woodland family to the museum.

“They’re actually opening the museum on Monday just for him and his group,” says Mike Anderson, who organized the trip. “With COVID and everything, they said they’d treat him like royalty.”

That royal treatment got a jump start this week in Woodland’s hometown.

“This is overwhelming,” says Mr. Woodland through a chuckle.

He looked at the crowd of people still hanging out at the park and continued, “I’m not used to being the center of attraction and this was kind of unbelievable.”

After the ceremony recognizing Woodland, dozens of community members waited in line to thank the veteran for his service. Some waited for half an hour before getting a turn to thank him.