Hawaii Ceremony Commemorates POW/MIA Day
By Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Chlosta
Special to American Forces Press Service
HONOLULU, Sep. 20, 2008 The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command held a ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific here yesterday to commemorate POW/MIA Day.
Navy Rear Adm. Donna Crisp, commander of Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, and retired Navy Capt. James Hickerson, a former Vietnam War POW, lay a wreath during a POW/MIA Day ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu on Sept. 19, 2008. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Bartneck, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
After bright sunshine finally pushed away the grey clouds, Navy Rear Adm. Donna Crisp, JPAC commander, began the event by pointing out the observance’s significance.
“Today, we pause to reflect on the heroism of tens of thousands of Americans who endured the hardship of enemy confinement, and those whose fate in time of war still remain unknown to this day,” Crisp said. “POW/MIA Recognition Day events are held all over our nation on this day to remind us of those Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country.”
The overflow crowd contained a patriotic mix of war veterans groups, active duty military members, civilians, tourists and even members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association’s Hawaii Chapter, who rode to the ceremony on their motorcycles in tribute. The dozen or so CVMA members in attendance wore jeans and leather vests with their distinctive “Combat Vets” crest emblazoned on the back.
One CVMA member, Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Medinger, who served with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said POW/MIA Day means “honoring those lost brothers, those that are no longer with us, those that are gone but not forgotten.”
The burly, but soft-spoken Medinger, who served one tour in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, is currently in a warrior transition brigade at Schofield Barracks here. He is in rehabilitation and treatment for injuries he suffered in a roadside-bomb attack in Iraq.
“I came out to honor those fallen brothers and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Medinger said.
In the day’s keynote speech, retired Navy Capt. James Hickerson recounted his time as a prisoner of war in Hanoi.
Hickerson was captured after he ejected from his plane when it was shot down over Vietnam. “As I was floating down in my parachute,” he said, “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ve got a problem here.’” He spent five years in a Hanoi prison camp.
After being tortured and sleeping on concrete for five years, he said, he still appreciates something as simple as the softness of a pillow.
“My wife didn’t know if I was dead or alive,” he said. God, country and his fellow POWs got him through the ordeal, he added.
“The ‘Hanoi Hilton’ taught me so much [about] what my country means to me,” he said. “There was no doubt in my mind that you’d come get me. What a great country we belong to, and we have a great country because of all the names on the walls around us here.”
Despite his experience in capitivity, Hickerson said, he considers himself fortunate.
“You’re looking at a very, very lucky man -- lucky because I am alive today,” he said.
Hickerson spoke to an attentive audience that was full of local veterans groups, easy to distinguish by their distinctive Hawaiian shirts and military style flight caps. One group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, stood out with distinctive purple hats, lavender flowered-print garments and their exclusive membership criteria: you can only be a member if you’ve received the Purple Heart.
“Today is the day that I remember some of my buddies that are still back there,” Korean War veteran Thomas Tanaka, a MOPH member, said. “It means a lot -- a day we should remember all the veterans. Hopefully, they’ll come back one day.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Chlosta serves in the Joint POW/MIA Acounting Command Public Affairs Office.)