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News9 Special Assignment: World War II Heroes

Updated: Friday, May 2 2014, 08:32 PM EDT

WTOV9.com
BROOKE COUNTY, W.Va. -- John Chernenko, a Wellsburg native, decorated World Word II veteran, former U.S. Marshal and West Virginia Senator, served his country beyond the call of duty as a soldier.
Chernenko age, 90, who was also a prisoner of war, remembers the day he was sent to France as a replacement for D-day.
“When I got on that beach, everything I owned was in a pack on my back and bullets were flying, artillery was coming in every now and then,” Chernenko said. “The German was a good soldier, was a good artillery man. So I lay in that sand and scoot my way down thinking the artillery would pass me. I was saying, ‘What in the golly am I doing here?"
The first few months in combat, Chernenko says it was something to lose a friend. Tanks were running over people. Death was everywhere.
“What really hurts is when you have a comrade that dies in your arms,” Chernenko said. “You didn’t actually want to go look at it, but that was a friend that you would like to hold. I had to a good partner in a foxhole. I held him a little while and closed his mouth and I closed his eyes."
That was far from the darkness Chernenko faced.
Surrounded by Nazi forces, he remembers having no food, water or ammunition as a prisoner of war. Ten or 12 members of his unit were captured.
“You could see the American bodies and the Germans laying there it was just like tulips coming up,” he said. “And we were out of ammunition and couple of them had serious wounds. Mine was minor, but it didn’t make any difference. They took us anyway."
Chernenko spent 63 days in camp 12A in Germany as a POW. Then he was marched to another.
“We had to walk hours with our hands in the back of us and the Germans would be on your left or your right to make sure you didn't move your hands down,” he said. “That was terrible."
Being in the camps wasn't easy. They would hear different stories about what was happening with the war.
“Every time we'd get one of those rumors, we knew that something was going to happen, and I didn’t think I'd make it," he said.
When the war ended, Chernenko went home and start his life over.
After all these years, he still remembers that day.
 “I started thinking the closer I got to shore, will I be treated as an enemy or will I come home with people waving their hands?" he said. “I wasn’t treated as the enemy, I was welcomed back."
He was awarded the Purple Heart with cluster and the Bronze Star.
Since, he has served the community as U.S. Marshal and a state senator. He’s also worked with other prisoners of war.
Chernenko is the founder of the Barbed Wire Chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, a group that meets every month to share stories.
He plays a role in many other organizations. As a community leader, his story will live on forever.

News9 Special Assignment: World War II Heroes


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