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Kenneth M. McCracken Sr.

March 13, 1924-Dec. 20, 2015

Kenneth M. McCracken Sr., 91, of Altoona passed away Sunday December 20, 2015 at home

surrounded by his loving family. He was born in Lewistown, Pa., son of the late Augusta M. and Arie E. (Goss) McCracken. He married Joyce Haywood in 1949 and she preceded him in death on May 10, 2011. Also preceded in death by a son-in-law Domenick W. Lestochi.

Surviving are two children: Robin L. Lestochi and Kenneth Jr. both of Altoona. A granddaughter: Christine M. Lestochi and fiance Aston Emigh. A sister: Nancy(Roger) Fanter of Simi Valley, Ca. A brother-in-law Dick Haywood and three sister-in-laws: Carol(Don) Kersteiner, Jane Shank, Bonnie(Fran) Evanitsky. He is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews and a special cousin Carol Simonetti, and his best little buddy Kadin Leidy.

Ken was a graduate of Lewistown High School and received his Bachelors degree in Engineering from Penn State University.

He proudly served in the US Army Air Corps during WWII as a Staff Sergeant. Ken served with the Eighth Air Force, Second Air Division, 467th bomb group, 791st BM SQ. He served as tail gunner on a B-24 bomber named “Lil' Peach”. On May 29, 1944, on their 15th mission they were assigned a different B-24 “Sellers Beavers”, since “Lil Peach” was in for reapir. While returning home he and the crew were shot down over the Baltic Sea. Ken and five other survivors were taken as Prisoners of War to Dulaq Luft Prison. Where they were heavily interrogated for weeks

by the Nazi SS. Four crew members were Killed in Action. The survivors were divided by rank and sent by boxcars to different Prisoner of War camps. Ken was sent to Luft Stalag IV in Eastern Prussia, part of what is now Poland.

As the Russians advanced the Germans decided to evacuate the camp. On Feb. 6, 1945, they divided the prisoners into groups of 250 to 300 and told them to prepare for a three day march. That three day march turned into a three month march. History calling this the “Black March” where many of the men were lost due to severe cold temperatures, illness and fatigue as the Germans shot or bayoneted anyone who was slowing the group down. On May 2, 1945, Ken and the rest of the POW’s awoke to find that the German guards had fled. Moving on their own, they were finally liberated by four Canadian soldiers. He was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Medal with one bronze battle star, American Theater Campaign Medal, Victory Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, and the Air Medal with 1 bronze Oak leaf Cluster.

Ken retired from F.L. Smith as a Senior Process Engineer.

He was a member of Llyswen United Methodist Church and a proud member of the Southern Allegheny Chapter of American POW’s He attended the dedication of WWII National Memorial in Washington DC on May 29th 2004. He did a Penn State Public Broadcasting Video on May 3, 2008. At the age of 87 he threw out the first pitch at the Altoona Curve game July 4, 2011 and was interviewed on air by Cory Geiger. He was also interviewed by John Clay of TV 10 WTAJ for an Altoona Hometown Hero segment. His last interview was just recently and that was broadcast on PCN channel “Voices of Veterans” this last Veterans Day 2015. A copy of which has been donated to the “Veterans History Project” at the “Library of Congress”.

Ken enjoyed fly fishing, vacations to O.C. Maryland and Florida, and he enjoyed Horse Racing.

Ken was a great husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, and a true gentleman. His love for his wife and family shined through his generosity and devotion. Ken was a man of many stories and wise words. Those who came across him fell in love with his engaging and intriguing war and fishing stories. Those who talked to him left with wise words, a smile on their face, and a deeper understanding of how life should be lived. He will truly be missed.

Family and friends will be received from 2-4pm and 6-8pm on Sunday, December 27, 2015 at the Santella Funeral Home. A funeral service will be held at Llyswen United Methodist Church on Monday at 10:30 am. Committal with Full Military Honors will be held at Calvary Cemetery.