Student writes book about great-grandfather, a POW during World War II

Feb. 27, 2012 at 7:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 27, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.

Clayton Reineke holds the book he published, "A Hero to Many," based on his great-grandfather Orby Ledbetter,  a 90-year-old World War II veteran.

Clayton Reineke holds the book he published, "A Hero to Many," based on his great-grandfather Orby Ledbetter, a 90-year-old World War II veteran.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

For Clayton Reinecke, a months-long, research-heavy and writing-intensive assignment was anything but a chore.

That's because the assignment - to write a book - required him to do one of the things he loves to do, anyway: hang out with his great-grandfather.

"I've always wanted to write a book about my grandpa," Clayton, 18, said. "All of his stories he told me as a kid - it's pretty awesome what he's done and what he's been through."

Clayton debuted his book, "A Hero to Many" at the 22nd annual St. Joseph Authors' Party and Art Show Extravaganza Monday night.

The book, published with full-color photos, touches on the 90 years Clayton's great-grandfather, Orby C. Ledbetter, has lived.

Most notably, the story centers around Ledbetter's service in World War II, where he was captured as a prisoner and held for 19 months.

"Don't believe a word of it," Ledbetter joked when he walked into the art show.

It wasn't until his retirement in 1984, Ledbetter said, that he was able to open up about his time as a POW.

Now, he doesn't stop telling the stories, which he shares with students across the Crossroads and now has collected on paper, thanks to his great-grandson. Clayton said he spent three months just hanging out with his great-grandfather, taking notes on the stories he'd tell.

"I think the kids oughtta know what we went through," Ledbetter said.

As chronicled in Clayton's book, Ledbetter said he left 19 months of encampment weighing 98 pounds and having only bathed three times. After he and his fellow soldiers were captured, they spent five days without food and water in the back of a boxcar, confined to standing room only. There, many men died of suffocation and unsanitary conditions, Clayton noted.

Perhaps most telling to the time he spent as a POW are Ledbetter's journal entries, letters and drawings, which he brought home and saved. Clayton compiled some of his favorites in the book.

"There is a saying that no man has tasted the full flavor of life until he has known poverty, love and war. Brother, I have had a three-course dinner in the flavor of life," one entry read.

Ledbetter and 10 other men escaped their prison one early morning when Russians infiltrated the camp, as Clayton wrote. The soldiers walked 20 days to make it to the American line. Ledbetter would later return to his wife and son, Clayton's grandfather.

"I would love to be like him. He's such a genuine person," Clayton said. "He's my best friend ... It's an honor to have him as my grandpa."

Ledbetter, meanwhile, said the honor was his.

"I'm just glad I got home," he said.



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