Good Life

Massacre survivor to share memories of war with the next generation

William Poorman will speak at the Pennsylvania Military Museum on Wednesday to discuss surviving The Malmedy Massacre, a war crime that claimed the lives of 84 men in his unit.
William Poorman will speak at the Pennsylvania Military Museum on Wednesday to discuss surviving The Malmedy Massacre, a war crime that claimed the lives of 84 men in his unit. Centre Daily Times, file

William Poorman has made it to the ripe old age of 93 — and that was not always a given.

After the outbreak of World War II, the Army dipped into Centre County’s supply of able bodied young men, and Poorman was among the brigade of Bellefonte stock filling out the ranks of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.

He left home with five other men and returned alone.

“War, if you get out of it, it’s the fortunes of war,” Poorman said.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Poorman will speak at the Pennsylvania military museum about The Malmedy Massacre, a war crime that claimed the lives of 84 men in his unit and nearly his own.

He’ll do so with the assistance of James Bloom, a retired United States Navy captain and an amateur military historian.

Bloom will provide the context for Poorman’s recollections, which the latter freely admits can be a bit spotty.

He hasn’t made a habit of speaking much about the war or his experiences in Europe. Poorman accepted the invitation to speak at the Military Museum out of curiosity more than anything else.

His story is straightforward. Poorman served as a pathfinder, manning an outlook post and listening for German artillery with the help of a system of microphones.

When it came time for his unit to move on past Malmedy, Poorman was stationed at a crossroads where he continued to wave the party onward in the right direction.

By the time he caught up with the rest of his battalion, they had already been captured and executed by a German Panzer unit.

“I always (complained) about route marking, but I haven’t (complained) about it since because it probably saved my life,” Poorman said.

Bloom, whose father also served in World War II, believes that Poorman’s firsthand account adds texture and weight to a narrative that is already in danger of extinction, a scenario in which the sacrifices made by the brave men and women of the time exist only in the history books.

“The current generation is never going to have an appreciation for what they did unless they hear about it,” Bloom said.

Time has that effect on people — this is something that Poorman understands. He was born in 1923, five years after his grandfather, a Civil War veteran, died.

Poorman never found the time to learn more about the man or his experiences in the war.

It was, after all, before his time.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

IF YOU GO

What: “The Malmedy Massacre — A Survivor’s Recollections”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Pennsylvania Military Museum, 51 Boal Ave., Boalsburg

Info: www.pamilmuseum. org

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