POW Gets a Pair of Jump Boots, the Best Gift a WWII Vet Could Want

by Braxton Taylor

ROCHESTER, Minn. — For Albert “Ken” Axelson, April 2 has always been a very special day.

Axelson, a World War II combat medic, turned 21 on the same day he was liberated from a Nazi prisoner of war camp in 1945 in the waning months of the war. The two anniversaries have been intertwined ever since.

So on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, it was a day of double-barreled significance, it being Axelson’s 100th birthday and the 79th anniversary of regaining his freedom.

In the lobby of Rochester West Health Services in northwest Rochester, where Axelson is a resident, members of the Kenyon-Wanamingo High School band played patriotic songs. A six-member honor guard from both Kenyon and Wanamingo VFWs presented national colors and local media recorded it all by taking videos and pictures. Axelson is a Wanamingo native.

Residents and staff, area veterans and community members watched as Axelson was presented with the best gift of all: a new pair of brown leather jump boots made to Axelson’s 10 1/2 EE specifications, like the ones he wore in the war.

“He’s always talked about those boots, how they were the best boots he ever had,” said Jon Axelson, Ken’s youngest son.

The gift was presented to Axelson by 10-year-old Declan Watson. His mom, Georganne Watson, and Declan had flown in from Philadelphia, where the Army-issued boots had been procured, to present the gift. Watson is a friend of Brian Danielson, a Kenyon veteran who served as master of ceremonies of the anniversary celebration.

The boots held special significance for Axelson, because it was during his captivity that a young Nazi guard, coveting the boots, demanded at gunpoint that Axelson surrender them. Axelson refused.

“He stared the guard down and the guard backed down,” Danielson said. “For a paratrooper, in Germany and Belgium, your jump boots are your thing.”

Axelson wore the same set of clothes and boots for months in captivity. After his liberation, he was forced to burn his boots for health and sanitation reasons.

Axelson’s service was associated with a number of major battles in the European theater. He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on the afternoon of June 6, 1944, as part of the Allied invasion of France. After D-Day, he volunteered for parachute jump school in England and was reassigned as a paratrooper to the 101st Airborne Division.

After jump school, Axelson fought in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s failed last-gasp effort to turn the tide against the allies.

Axelson was captured by the enemy on Jan. 3, 1945, and was sent to German POW camps Stalag XIIA and IXB. Every day, soldiers in captivity were dying of starvation and sickness.

After his liberation, Axelson sent off a telegram to let his family know that he was OK. His dad received the telegram — and learned that his son was alive — as he was preparing his son’s funeral at the local church.

“The post office person gave him the telegram to let him know that Ken was alive and coming home,” Danielson said.

Jon Axelson said that his dad had been looking forward to this day. As soon as he turned 99, he was already talking and planning for it, Jon said.

“He was planning it. He was in charge,” Jon said.

But then it’s not every day you get to celebrate both your 100th birthday and liberation day on the same day.

(c) 2024 the Post-Bulletin

Visit the Post-Bulletin at www.postbulletin.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Story Continues

© Copyright 2024 Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read the full article here

You may also like

Leave a Comment