And then there were none

Published 10:24 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prisoner of war: Marion “Turk” Turner, left, is greeted by Capt. Erik Ross of the USS Bataan at a breakfast meeting at Bunny’s Restaurant. Turner died this week at the age of 92.

Friends remember last POW from Bunny’s group

A group of veterans who meet regularly at a local restaurant will carry on without the last of the prisoners of war that started the breakfast meetings.

Marion “Turk” Turner died Monday at the age of 92. He was the last of the central group that met at Bunny’s Restaurant the first Wednesday of each month.

Turner was held captive by the Japanese for three and a half years in the 1940s after a Japanese destroyer attacked his submarine, the USS Perch.

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“It’s really quite a loss,” said Vietnam veteran Ed Fancher, who has been attending the regular Bunny’s breakfast for about two years. “He was a good man, and we loved him.”

Turner endured regular beatings by the Japanese guards during his captivity, his friends and comrades said Wednesday. Even so, he found creative ways of keeping his captors from torturing him and remained positive throughout his entire life.

The breakfast group remembered Turner with a prayer and speeches on Wednesday. Even though he had been in the hospital for the last few months, he continued coming to the Bunny’s breakfast with William Blair, who picked him up and who also picks up the tab for the group each month.

“He was always positive about his outlook,” Blair said. “Every day, he said ‘Tomorrow will be a better day.’”

Turner’s regular chair at Bunny’s was leaned against the table on Wednesday, with a cloth embroidered with “Turk” placed over the back. Waitress Jenell Miller said she’ll miss serving Turner his favorite breakfast — corned beef hash, sunny-side-up eggs, grits and cornbread.

“He always had a nice word to say,” she said.

His friends and comrades will especially miss his stories. Turner was known for regaling his breakfast mates with war stories, including how he got some of the guards to stop beating him.

After one beating, Fancher recalled being told, Turner thanked his captor in Japanese.

“He said the guy never touched him again after that,” Fancher said.

After another beating, fellow veteran Jerry Lee Cobleigh said, Turner asked his torturer for some water. The man retrieved a bucket of water and threw it in his face.

“Turk just stood there and laughed at him,” Cobleigh said. “That’s quite a person.”

Turner’s wife, Nell Turner, said Wednesday afternoon that her husband regularly volunteered to speak to school groups about his experiences.

“Anyone who asked any questions, he would talk to them,” she said. “The children were just enthralled with the stories that he was able to tell and give them a personal outlook on what World War II was like, especially as a prisoner of war.”

Command Chaplain Steve Souders of the USS Bataan said the ship’s crew will feel the loss. Active duty personnel often came to the breakfasts to meet the veterans, and Turner enjoyed telling the young men and women about his experiences.

“He was always so gracious,” Souders said.

Grace, evidently, played a big part in Turner’s life. Several of his friends remembered that he had forgiven the Japanese for the atrocities they committed against him.

“I think that’s very commendable,” Fancher said. “I think that’s probably because of his Christian way of life.”

After decades of falling through the cracks, Turner finally received a Purple Heart in a surprise ceremony at his church in January.

Though the original group of POWs is now gone, Blair said he will continue to hold the regular breakfast fellowship for any veterans who want to come. Several World War II veterans who were not prisoners of war still come regularly, and Korean and Vietnam veterans also attend.

“We’re going to keep this going,” Vietnam veteran James Richardson said.

Another Vietnam vet, Dale Crittenden, said he would always respect Turner and other POWs for the things they went through.

“They were the hardcore troops,” he said.

Several friends also remembered that Turner was good to his wife. Blair said Turner bought his wife, Nell, an anniversary gift every month, rather than just every year.

“I loved his ways, as nice as he was to his wife,” said Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco, who survived World War II in Nazi captivity in Europe. “I always found him to be a friend, a good man and a patriot.”

The group of veterans is convinced that Turner was received into heaven on Monday night.

“Turk’s got to go to heaven, because he went to hell on earth,” Crittenden said.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday. Turner’s ashes will be scattered at sea.