CLEARWATER — On Dec. 22, 1942, George Zielberg sent his parents a telegram.
"Have arrived safety in North Africa and am well."
Seven weeks later, Mr. Zielberg was prisoner No. 110183 in a German camp.
He stayed there more than two years, until the last days of World War II.
Mr. Zielberg, who went on to build a successful tile contracting business, downplayed the hardships he faced during the war. He held on to the same sunny outlook when his wife of 27 years died of cancer at 50. Instead of despairing, he played an electric organ, painted and took flying lessons.
"He always used to say, 'You've got to do what you've got to do,' " said Mary DeLancey, his daughter.
Mr. Zielberg died April 10 of congestive heart failure. He was 92.
Sixteen months into his military service, his 168th Infantry, 34th Infantry Division, found itself under withering assault by German tanks in northern Africa. He was captured Feb. 17, 1943, one of more than 2,500 Allied troops who went missing Feb. 14-17 in the Battle of Kasserine Pass.
Mr. Zielberg landed in Trattendorf, a work camp, where he was assigned to work at a power plant. He escaped in April 1945 when his captors fled before advancing Allied forces.
Mr. Zielberg returned to his hometown of Louisville, Ky., and immediately married Rita Croghan, whom he had met in a factory before the war.
He learned how to set tile, then started his own company. He moved to Clearwater in 1953 with his wife and two daughters, where he repeated those same steps.
"He was the best of the best," said builder J.R. Dohme, 80. "He believed that if you do a good job, treat everybody right and do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, you will make money."
Family photos show a thick-set man with brown skin, often wearing slacks and a tie. He had an artistic streak, too, which came out in painting and playing 1940s-era music on the organ. He loved jokes, his family said, and is often seen smiling in his photos.
Rita died of cancer in 1972. Mr. Zielberg married again for 10 years; his second wife also died of cancer.
His family found the telegram to his parents among his belongings, along with a typed receipt in which the Germans had recorded his available funds.
When asked how captors treated him, Mr. Zielberg usually said, "The Russians had it worse."
"Dad always made better of it than he actually was," said DeLancey, 60.
Mr. Zielberg was buried Thursday at Sylvan Abbey, with military honors.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.