GEORGETOWN — Former World War II prisoner of war Charlie Dukes, 97, of Georgetown not only survived the grueling experiences of his captivity, but went on to help educate future generations about history and the cost of war by speaking to school classes and service clubs, and writing his memoir, “Good Morning but the Nightmares Never End,” now in its third printing.
Following the war, Dukes adjusted somewhat to life on the home front, went to college and met the love of his life, Gracie Schwab. Now, their four children and friends are planning to help them celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary on Sept. 17, and invite the public to send a card or note of best wishes to them for the occasion:
Charlie and Gracie Dukes
Autumn Fields, Room 115
316 E. 14th St.
Tilton, IL 61832
Dukes’ story of survival was an arduous one all those years ago, but he made it back home to Illinois from Europe in the fall of 1945 after the war had officially ended. That was after enduring nine months in a German POW camp near the Polish border until prisoners and Germans alike hastily evacuated and started to flee west to avoid Russian troops advancing from the east.
He then spent time in a Russian detention camp from which he escaped, and later survived a couple of months alone on the road before reaching the safety of Allied lines on May 27 — 20 days after the Germans had surrendered.
Dukes’ long journey to freedom ended with a prisoner exchange at the Elbe River in Wittenberg, Germany.
In his retirement years, Dukes visited area schools and clubs, talking about the war and his experiences. In the late 1990s, he began to write his memoir about the war, “Good Morning But the Nightmares Never End” (available on www.talespress.com and Amazon.com) with the help of his wife.
The title is taken from Dukes’ promise of saying, “Good morning,” for the rest of his life after he and a buddy were lead scouts for his L Company, 3rd platoon, 413th Infantry, 104th Wolfhound Division, and they encountered a German battalion. His buddy was killed, and Dukes was trapped between the lines in no-man’s land for the night.
“I’m not really a religious man,” he says, “but I promised the man upstairs that if I ever saw the sun come up again, I’d say ‘good morning’ for the rest of my life. When the sun came up, I said, ‘Good morning.’ I’ve been saying it ever since.”
In addition to Dukes’ story being available in hardcover and Amazon Kindle formats, Urbana native and scriptwriter Joe Hampton is developing an audiobook version and has written a script for a movie. A few years ago, Hampton posted a short video on YouTube of Dukes talking about his wartime experiences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEgMxZEUqfM&feature=youtu.be
It’s been an important mission for Dukes to share his story with others, and, in fact, the process has therapeutically helped eliminate the frequent, and sometimes very active, nightmares that haunted him for years.