Recognizing POWs, Remembering Those Still Missing

Source: wikimedia.org

Source: wikimedia.org

The following is an article written by Darlene Richardson, Historian, Department of Veterans Affairs:

This Friday, September 20, 2013, marks the 34th annual observance of National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day in America.

Since our country beginnings, hundreds of soldiers, sailors and Marines who left their homes to fight America’s wars were imprisoned and held against their will by our enemies, or they never returned home; their fates, as yet, unknown.

Roughly 16 million Americans served in World War II, and at the end of the war 79,000 were missing. Today, 73,000 from World War II remain missing and unaccounted for.

In the Vietnam War’s aftermath, over 2,500 Servicemembers were missing and their families pressed the government for action. While the military continued its efforts to locate and account for all of the missing, a joint resolution of Congress and a presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter called on the nation to remember those who had not returned home and pronounced July 18, 1979 as the first National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the U.S.

This special day of remembrance was established to “honor those Americans who have been prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action…and to rekindle the memory of the sacrifices these individuals have made for their country and our indebtedness to them.”

This annual commemorative day was originally held in April or July, until 1986, when it was observed on the third Friday in September for the first time. The designated day for the national recognition is determined each year by a joint resolution of Congress, followed by a Presidential proclamation and has been observed in late September since 1986.

Many VA medical centers will be holding special ceremonies this week to honor POW/MIA Americans. Find your local VA facility here.

Airmen From Vietnam War Identified

And just as MIA recognition day arrives, so does word that the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) that the remains of Air Force pilots Maj. James E. Sizemore of Lawrenceville, Ill., and Maj. Howard V. Andre Jr., of Memphis, Tenn., have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors on Sept. 23 at Arlington National Cemetery.

The duo died when their aircraft crashed July 8, 1969 in Xiangkhoang Province, Laos but their remains were unaccounted for until April 2013. There are more than 1,640 American service members still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. More information is available at the http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo.

by Darlene Richardson, Historian, Department of Veterans Affairs
Thursday, September 19, 2013

This Friday, September 20, 2013, marks the 34th annual observance of National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day in America.

Since our country beginnings, hundreds of soldiers, sailors and Marines who left their homes to fight America’s wars were imprisoned and held against their will by our enemies, or they never returned home; their fates, as yet, unknown.

Roughly 16 million Americans served in World War II, and at the end of the war 79,000 were missing. Today, 73,000 from World War II remain missing and unaccounted for.

In the Vietnam War’s aftermath, over 2,500 Servicemembers were missing and their families pressed the government for action. While the military continued its efforts to locate and account for all of the missing, a joint resolution of Congress and a presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter called on the nation to remember those who had not returned home and pronounced July 18, 1979 as the first National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the U.S.

– See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/September/Missing-but-Not-Forgotten.asp#sthash.IjYNP0Wk.dpuf

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World War II POW to Receive Nine Military Medals

The destroyer, USS Schley (DD 103). Photo credit: navsource.org

The destroyer, USS Schley (DD 103). Photo credit: navsource.org

Imagine fighting in World War II, surviving four years as a Prisoner of War at camps in Japan and China only to have the U.S. Military lose your records.

The Prisoner of War Medal. Photo credit: axpow.org

The Prisoner of War Medal. Photo credit: axpow.org

Lost paperwork is not uncommon in the military especially if those records date back to World War II when everything was typed with carbon copies.

But that is the reason why 94-year-old McPherson Plecker never received the nine medals earned during his Navy service from 1940-1946.

The Navy Fireman First Class served on the destroyer, USS Schley (DD 103) and volunteered to go to Wake Island.

Plecker is now a patient of Suncoast Hospice patient. And like many veterans, he never mentioned his missing service medals. But when his hospice care team learned about his service and the lack of recognition, they contacted the Department of the Navy and worked to rectify the 67-year oversight.

Saturday at 10 a.m. former Congressman Mike Bilirakis will present Plecker with nine service medals including a Purple Heart for his injuries suffered during the battle at Wake Island. He’ll also receive the Prisoner of War Medal and the American Defense Service Medal.

The ceremony is planned at the Plaza at the Palms of Largo, 385 Alternative Keen Road, Largo. which is dedicated to veterans.

Plecker’s story is part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

American POWs Released from North Vietnam 40 Years Ago

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

On Feb. 12, 1973, more than 140 American prisoners of war were set free.

One of them was Lee Ellis, a retired Air Force colonel, a fighter pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a POW in the downtown prison nicknamed – the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“It’s a French prison built in the early 1900s. It occupies an entire downtown block,” Ellis said. “The walls are 15 feet high, 5 or 6 feet thick, guard towers at all the corners so impossible to escape from.”

Likening their prison to a “hotel” was part of the gallows humor that Ellis said got him and others through their captivity and torture. Ellis turned the experience into a book: “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hotel.”

Ellis said his fellow POWs and the military leaders at the Hanoi Hilton like the senior ranking officer, Lt. Col. Robbie Risner, helped him recover and learn to deal with the torture.

taps-on-the-walls_custom-9849ed78ea79f780d11f6dcb5812fa93223db8af-s2“He said we just need to bounce back. He said be a good American, live by the code of conduct. Take torture to resist only up to the point of where you don’t lose physical or mental damage,” Ellis said. “Then, go ahead and give in, give as little as possible and ready to bounce back.”

Another among the men to start the long journey back home that day was John Borling.

An Air Force fighter pilot, Borling was shot down on his 97th mission over Vietnam. He spent the next six years and eight months in the “Hanoi Hilton,” a place of torture, deprivation and often solitary confinement.

Borling spent much of his time there just trying to survive. He also composed poetry — in his head, without benefit of pencil or paper.

NPR interviewed him about his book of poems written and memorized during those years, Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton. It’s a tribute, as he told NPR, to the “power of the unwritten word.”

A list of Florida POW/MIAs is available here.

Learning Leadership as a Vietnam POW at the “Hanoi Hilton”

Author and former POW Lee Ellis in the WUSF studios in Tampa. Photo credit: Yoselis Ramos/WUSF

Author and former POW Lee Ellis in the WUSF studios in Tampa. Photo credit: Yoselis Ramos/WUSF

Living with rats and bugs – enduring no heat in the winter or cooling in the summer – surviving torture – these are conditions that Lee Ellis endured as a prisoner of war and he says taught him leadership.

Ellis is a retired Air Force colonel, a fighter pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a POW in the downtown prison nicknamed – the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“It’s a French prison built in the early 1900s. It occupies an entire downtown block,” Ellis said. “The walls are 15 feet high, 5 or 6 feet thick, guard towers at all the corners so impossible to escape from.”

Likening their prison to a “hotel” was part of the gallows humor that Ellis said got him and others through their captivity and torture.

His new book is “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hotel.”

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Ellis said his most powerful lesson came after his first interrogation that included torture. It lasted almost 24 hours before he agreed to fill out a biography..

“I gave my name, rank, service number, date of birth which that is what we were supposed to do,” Ellis said. “But I didn’t give any more that was accurate, except for my father’s name.”

Yet he felt broken having given in to the torture, his morale hit an all time low.

“I felt like I was the weakest, poorest military person who had ever worn the uniform,” Ellis said. “As it turned out later, I’ve learned that everybody had been through that type of thing and done about the same thing.”

Ellis said his fellow POWs and the military leaders at the Hanoi Hilton like the senior ranking officer, Lt. Col. Robbie Risner, helped him recover and learn to deal with the torture.

“He said we just need to bounce back. He said be a good American, live by the code of conduct. Take torture to resist only up to the point of where you don’t lose physical or mental damage,” Ellis said. “Then, go ahead and give in, give as little as possible and ready to bounce back.”

Ellis’ book is broken into 14 chapters. The first six chapters address how to lead yourself. The last eight chapters detail skills needed to lead others.

Each chapter starts with a story about his time as a POW. He then describes the specific leadership skill he learned followed by examples of how that skill applies to today’s civilian world and CEOs.

You can hear Ellis’ interview with WUSF 89.7 FM HERE.

Father Ends Silence, Asks Taliban to Return His Son

My apology that the video embedded feature does not seem to be working. Please click on the links and the YouTube video should appear. Thank you.

After almost two years, Robert Bergdahl is speaking up and directly asking the Taliban to return his son.

Army PFC Bowe Bergdahl was captured June 2009 in Afghanistan and then transfered to Pakistan. Robert Bergdahl also asks for the cooperation of the Pakistan Army.

Here is the video Mr. Bergdahl of Bailey, Idaho posted on YouTube with the plea:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJmmZQ3byKQ

The Taliban also has released a videos of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl after his capture. Here is the first video of Bergdahl being questioned in July 2009:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pcl4MNXffHk&feature=related

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