BENTON, Ark. (AP) – For more than two years as a prisoner of war in Germany, Ewell Ross McCright secretly recorded and saved a precious piece of history – information that would help expose Nazi atrocities and connect veterans and their families with the past.

The World War II bombardier filled four ledgers with the backgrounds and war injuries of 2,194 soldiers. He hid the records under floorboards in one POW camp and secretly carried them with him in place of food on a forced 34-mile march to another camp.

On Friday, nearly 60 years after McCright was freed and 14 years after his death, his family received the Legion of Merit medal in honor of the risky but valuable work he performed.

“Because of (McCright’s ledgers) veterans have found former POW roommates, adult children have felt connected with their fathers’ pasts and 11 former POWs have received Purple Hearts,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark, who lobbied for the posthumous honor and presented McCright’s sister, Marie Hall of Benton, with the medal.

The small ceremony marked the first time the Legion of Merit was awarded to a soldier for actions taken as a prisoner of war, Pryor said.

McCright was captured and taken to a German prisoner camp in what is now Zagan, Poland, after his B-17 was shot down over France on Jan. 23, 1943. He remained a POW until April 29, 1945, when Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army liberated his camp.

His ledgers detailed fellow POWs’ accounts of gas chambers at Auschwitz, dogs tearing prisoners apart for sport and Nazi medical experiments on prisoners. That information was presented as evidence of war crimes against Nazi leaders at the postwar Nuremberg Trials, said Arnold Wright of Benton, who transcribed the ledgers and self-published them in the 1994 book “Behind the Wire: Stalag Luft III, South Compound.”

Charles L. Roth, 82, the radio operator on McCright’s plane, said his friend helped bring criminals to justice.

“He helped to convict some (Nazis) for atrocities and gave evidence that they never would have had,” Roth said. “If the Gestapo had known what he was doing, he wouldn’t have lived.”

Roth, of Grand Junction, Colo., was a POW in a different camp and only recently learned of McCright’s heroism. Neither man knew the other survived the war.

After the war, the ledgers were copied by the War Department, and the originals were returned to McCright.

McCright became a lawyer after the war and served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1951 to 1953. He died in 1990 at 72.

AP-ES-10-22-04 2131EDT

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