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First Released POW Gets Warm Welcome

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First Released POW Gets Warm Welcome

Pfc. Robert Fletcher Greeted Enthusiastically After Long Confinement

(Pictures pages 1 and 32)

Ypsilanti- Pfc. Robert W. Fletcher, finally united here with his loved ones today after nearly three years of confinement in North Korea, was formally greeted by city officials at 10 a.m. ceremonies in front of the American Legion Post 408 Home on Worden St.

Visibly nervous after his long ordeal but beaming with delight, Fletcher arrived unannounced by plane at Willow Run Airport at 8:25 p.m. yesterday, more than 24 hours after he was processed at the Army Transfer Separation Center in Ft. Sheridan, Ill.

Fletcher had flown from Chicago to Cleveland, O., where he visited a sister here and a fellow repatriated POW. He missed an afternoon flight from Cleveland to Willow Run and was forced to accept a later flight.

Fletcher hired a taxi at Willow Run, which took him to the home of another sister, Mrs. Evelyn Campbell of 466 Madison Blvd.  There he was united with his mother, Mrs. Mae Woodson of 1052 Monroe Ave., his sisters and brothers and close friends.

Reception Held

American Legionnaires from Posts 282 and 408 here held an informal reception in Fletcher's honor last night at the Post 282 Home.

This morning, a banner reading "Welcome Home, 'Purdy,'" (Fletcher's nickname) was displayed prominently on the lawn at the home of Huron Post 408, American Legion, where Fletcher, accompanied by his family, was formally greeted by Mayor Carl J. Scheffler, City Manager N. G. Damoose and the local Legion commanders, James N. Davis of Post 408 and G. Yale Averill of Post 282.

The 21-year-old Fletcher, who is unmarried, is the first and only prisoner of war from Washtenaw county to be repatriated thus far in "Operation Big Switch."

Fletcher was only 18 when he left Ypsilanti High School in April 1950, and enlisted in the Army infantry.  A popular student, he was also a three-sport athlete in high school.

Serves In Same Unit

Coincidentally, he served with the 24th Division-the same unit in which his father, the late Charles E. Fletcher, and an uncle, Robert Fletcher, served in World War I.

He had been fighting in Korea only a few weeks before his capture by the Korean Reds on Nov. 25, 1950, and was officially reported missing in action on that date. Months later, however, Fletcher's mother began receiving letters from him from a prison camp. The last word she had received was a Mother's Day card last May.

Fletcher was notified of his pending release at 10 a.m. on July 27. He entered “Freedom Village" on the night of Aug. 7.

The young soldier, very lean but; apparently healthy, said he lost about 20 pounds during his long confinement. "But I've gained about pounds back in the past week,” he declared this morning.

Regarding the treatment of prisoners by their Communist captors, Fletcher said it varied "with the progress of the truce talks.”

Treatment Varies

"Whenever the Reds didn't like the way the truce talks were going, we were treated badly," he said. “When they thought the talks were going the way they wanted, we were treated better.”

Fletcher cited several instances of inhumane treatment by the Reds. He added, moreover, that he knew of no American prisoner who preferred to remain with his captors after "Big Switch" began.

He was pessimistic about the truce, flatly prophesying that "it won't work" and expressing fear that "war will break out again."

"I think the UN should have gone ahead and conquered all of Korea,” he declared. “From what I saw, North Korea wants South Korea and the South Koreans want to take over North Korea. This way, nobody is satisfied."

Describes Camp

Fletcher was confined at a prison camp which, he explained, was headquarters for all North Korean prison camps. It was located on the Yalu River, the first POW camp established by the Reds. The prisoners in later months were granted recreation, he said, and told of playing basketball games against teams from the adjoining village.

Fletcher's convalescent leave will continue until Sept. 25, when he is slated to report again at Ft. Sheridan for discharge or reassignment. He said he does not plan to transfer to the inactive reserves.

His sisters, in addition to Mrs. Campbell, are Mrs. Christine Ellison and Wilma Fletcher, both of Ypsilanti, and Mrs. Clara Flowers of Cleveland, O. His brothers are Charles E. Fletcher, jr., of Ann Arbor and William F. Fletcher, 13, of Ypsilanti.

He will make his home here with Mrs. Campbell.