POST FALLS, Idaho Mike Weber was 95 pounds after spending three and a half years in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp.
His wife, Barbara, recalls wondering whether she would ever see Mike again as she fled their rural Romanian village in a packed train boxcar at the end of World War II with their 6-month-old daughter.
"We had no connection for two years," Barbara said.
But neither Mike, now 88, nor Barbara, now 83, lost hope.
They reunited in Austria in 1948, then immigrated to the United States through a church program with a new outlook on life.
"You can't lose hope," she said.
Today, the Post Falls couple are thankful for 67 years of marriage, seven successful children, their faith in God and, ironically, the "enemy" for giving them a chance for freedom as a displaced couple.
"We knew three words of English, had no money and were non-educated when we arrived here (in 1952)," said Mike. "We had the opportunity to make a better living for ourselves in America. We knew what was expected of us (to be productive members of society)."
In central Europe, Barbara survived bombings and starvation while keeping a step ahead of the advancing Russian army. Her first journey was about three months from Romania to Austria. She then trekked about two months from Austria to Czechoslovakia.
"I hadn't heard the word 'flee' before," Barbara said. "I had to wrap everything I could take in a sheet that was tied at the corners. You couldn't think much ... just walk, walk, walk."
Mike suffered a gunshot wound in 1945 and while waiting for a checkup at a Czech hospital, there was shooting in the streets by angry Czech soldiers.
Many people were gunned down as they fled from the hospital. Mike and some of his fellow soldiers escaped, but were later found by Czech soldiers as they hid in a building. Just four soldiers, including Mike, survived a random massacre.
Later, they became part of a larger group of prisoners held by the Russians.
Mike said 600 of the 1,400 Hungarian, German and Romanian prisoners died of pneumonia and other diseases during the first winter they were held in 1945.
"The bitter cold was the main reason, but also the lack of food and medical care," Mike said. "There were no doctors or medicine."
Prisoners worked in coal mines and factories, and there was bad food and no pay.
"We slept on boards and had no bedding or covering," he said. "We had the same clothes and never got undressed (to bathe)."
While working on a farm when Mike was a POW, Barbara remembers their 3-year-old daughter, Maria, asking where her daddy was because other kids on the farm had a dad.
"I would point to the east," Barbara said.
As the days passed, Barbara realized the chances of seeing Mike again were fading.
"There were so many horror stories about the Russians torturing the prisoners and actually working them to death," she said. "I knew that others were sure that Mike would never return. He had been gone too long to be released."
But in 1948, Mike was released and put on a train in Germany. He eventually traveled to Austria to reunite with his family, begging for food along the way or visiting nearby fields during stops to scrounge up leftover vegetables.
Mike was unable to tell Barbara that he had been released so when he arrived on the farm in Austria, Barbara was shocked.
"I had a feeling of numbness come over me," she said. "There he was with our daughter, now 5 years old. It was truly unbelievable. Nothing was said. We just stared at each other.
"He had a pullover sweater that had about 30 holes in it."
The Webers worked in the woods to make ends meet after Mike's return and, in 1951, they applied to come to America.
Mike's first job when the couple arrived in Wenatchee, Wash., in 1952 was thinning apples. They had three children at the time and were expecting their fourth.
Later, in 1966, they bought an orchard in Omak, Wash.
"We're thankful to be here," Barbara said. "I wouldn't want to move back."
The Church of the Brethren sponsored the Webers to come here. The Webers now attend Community Presbyterian Church in Post Falls.