William P. Purcell Jr., 87, of Lansdowne, a retired food broker and World War II prisoner of war, died of heart failure Friday, Nov. 19, at home.
Mr. Purcell graduated from Upper Darby High School and entered Cornell University.
After World War II started, he left Cornell and served in the Army in France as a jeep driver. In November 1944 he drove into an enemy attack while trying to pick up wounded soldiers. He yelled in German, "Don't shoot!" and pointed to the red cross on the jeep, and the Germans backed off, his son Bill said. The next morning, though, his unit was captured after spending the night in a farmhouse.
On Nov. 30, 1944, Mr. Purcell's parents in Drexel Hill received word that he was missing in action. They didn't learn he was alive and imprisoned until April 1945, a month before he was liberated.
The POW camp where Mr. Purcell spent five months was in Moosburg, Germany, near the Dachau concentration camp, and the GIs had heard rumors of the atrocities there. In 1964, he returned with his wife and two sons and visited Dachau.
"He wanted us to understand the horrors that had been inflicted on people," said his son, who was 11.
After his discharge, Mr. Purcell earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from Cornell. He worked briefly for Baldwin Locomotive before joining his father's food brokerage business.
In 1983 he retired as president and owner of T.A. James & Co., a food brokerage in Philadelphia, and bought a warehouse, where he set up his woodworking equipment. He would spend hours making furniture and loved to fix things, his son said.
Mr. Purcell also enjoyed reading mystery books, eating at Villa di Roma in the Italian Market, and visiting friends in Sweden.
Since 1950, he had been married to Mary Hamilton Purcell. They met at a party in Newtown Square soon after she moved to the area from Texas. She was intrigued when he told her that he had just bought a 1931 Chevrolet fire truck, their son said.
Mr. Purcell still owned the truck, which he drove in countless parades. "I learned to drive on it," his son said.
In addition to his wife and his son Bill, Mr. Purcell is survived by another son, David, and three grandchildren.
A funeral was held Tuesday, Nov. 23, at Lansdowne Baptist Church, where Mr. Purcell taught Sunday school and had been president of the board of deacons.
Memorial donations may be made to the church, 17 E. La Crosse Ave., Lansdowne, Pa. 19050.