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Ex-POW Portrayed in “The Great Escape” Dies at 75

March 29, 1993

ENTERPRISE, Ala. (AP) _ Jerry Sage, the World War II prisoner of war portrayed by Steve McQueen in the movie ″The Great Escape,″ is dead at age 75.

The former Army colonel died Friday of cancer at a Dothan hospital.

During his captivity in a German POW camp, Sage helped work for 15 months on the huge, three-tunnel escape project that formed the plot for the movie and his book, ″Sage.″

Sage, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, said he earned the nickname ″Cooler King″ because he was placed in solitary confinement 15 times in the Nazi camp.

″Each time I was placed in confinement, I would report back to the Lord were I was,″ he said in a speech several years ago. ″By getting closer with the Lord, things got better and better. Each time I would try to escape I got further and further away.″

In the movie, McQueen whiled away time in solitary with a baseball glove and ball.

After numerous breakout attempts, Sage, who worked for the U.S. Office of Strategic Service, made his final escape across Poland after being a POW for more than three years.

Sage closed his book with this epilogue: ″Helping my fellowman in this great country seems to be the best possible way of showing my gratitude.″

Sage spent more than 30 years in the Army before retiring in 1972. He taught in Columbia, S.C., and served as an assistant to the president of the University of South Carolina.

He moved to Enterprise in 1980.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Jon Sage, three daughters, two sons and nine grandchildren.

A funeral was scheduled for Tuesday.

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