COLORADO SPRINGS — More than 81,000 American service members are missing, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. For six months during World War II, many believed Retired Army Master Sgt. Edwin Beck was among that group.

In 1944, during what is now known as the Battle of the Bulge, Beck was a young soldier with the 106th infantry division. One night, the group found themselves surrounded by German soldiers not far from the city of Prüm, Germany. After a short small-arms battle, the division was forced to surrender and was taken prisoner.

The American prisoners were forced to travel by foot and box car for several days in the snow before arriving at Stalag IV G, a labor camp near Oschatz, Germany. Russian and British soldiers were also imprisoned at the camp. Beck spent nearly six months there as a prisoner of war before he and two other American prisoners escaped during the German guards’ shift change.

When he returned to the United States, he learned some people thought he had died during the fighting.

“The first guy I saw when I got out the prison, when I got back to the States, it was about midnight. And he said ‘Ed’ and I said ‘yeah that’s me’ and he said ‘you’re dead.’ I said ‘no.’ He read in the paper I was missing in action, and it was coming in the newspaper a month later that I was a POW, but he never read that part, so he couldn’t believe I was still alive,” said Beck.

Beck later served in the Korean War several years later. He now lives in Colorado Springs, sharing his story to honor his fellow service members that never made it back home.

“The General said, we’re not the heroes. The heroes are the ones that paid for sacrifice,” said Beck.

In a couple of months, Beck will turn 98, as the generation of World War II veterans he served with grows smaller by the day.

“There were about 200 in our chapter at one time, the Rocky Mountain Chapter in Colorado Springs, and there are three of us left.”