MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, GA -- The guest speaker at MCLB Albany's 16th annual POW/MIA Recognition Breakfast, set for Friday, will be a native of Camilla, Ga., who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for six years and four months.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson G. Swindle is currently a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission.
He served his last tour of duty at MCLB Albany and retired on Schmid Parade Field. Maj. Gen. Warren Johnson, the commanding general at that time, presided over Swindle's retirement ceremony.
Swindle's son, Kevin, currently a resident of Lee County, was a classmate of Judy Payne, a former MCLB employee who shared her recollections of the returned Marine POW when he visited the fifth-grade class of Ravenwood Academy in Meigs, Ga.
"First of all, we all knew Kevin's daddy was not at home - but it didn't seem like a big deal to us until we heard he was coming home," Payne said. "It got to be pretty important then because the adults were talking about it, and because not too many people from around there were in the military, and we certainly didn't know of any who were prisoners of war."
Payne said her fifth-grade teacher told the class that Kevin would be out of school a few days, and they should all watch the news because Swindle's return and his reunion with his family would be televised.
"Now, that was really big," Payne said. "So we watched the news like we'd never watched it before, and sure enough, in a day or two, we saw Kevin and his parents."
According to Payne, Swindle spoke to the students at Ravenwood Academy within a few weeks of his return.
"He'd been away so long, I think he [Swindle] wanted to do everything he could to reconnect to Kevin, to his family, and to his community," Payne said.
"I remember how tall and thin he was," Payne said. "Later, I realized he was so thin because he hadn't had enough to eat in more than six years.
"But most of all, I remember being absolutely spellbound by this man - a military hero from our little community, and Kevin's daddy," Payne continued. "It was the first time I'd ever heard anybody talk about America and what our nation stands for; about patriotism and duty. It was certainly the first time I'd heard anybody talk about being held prisoner by an enemy of our country."
Payne reported that Swindle carefully adapted his story for his young audience. Payne said.
"He told us about long periods of isolation and the suffering he and his fellow POWs endured," Payne said. Swindle told his young audience that despite all his training for dealing with being captured, he was unprepared for the methods of torture he had to endure.
The young Marine from Southwest Georgia was held in several POW camps in the course of his six-plus years of incarceration in North Vietnam.
Senator John McCain (D-Ariz.) was Swindle's cellmate at one camp, and the two remain close friends and political allies today.
Swindle was at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" when he was released in 1973.
"Orson Swindle captivated us when he talked about patriotism," Payne said. "Although I'm sure my parents were as patriotic as anybody else, it just wasn't something fifth-graders thought about a lot. But Orson changed all that.
"After he told us about being a POW for so long," Payne continued, "he said he was only doing his duty, and that every American should be prepared to do the same to defend their country.
"Well, nobody in Mitchell County, Georgia, marched or demonstrated to protest the Vietnam War," Payne said. "We were all proud of our American military personnel. After Orson's visit, all of us at Ravenwood Academy dreamed of patriotism and what it means to be an American and we wanted to grow up and be just like Kevin's daddy - brave enough to withstand the torture of an enemy and strong enough to hold onto our patriotism and our faith until we could come back home.
"I learned all I know about patriotism from Orson Swindle," Payne said. "He embodies patriotism to me. He is the greatest hero I have ever known, and I will always treasure the principle of patriotism and the true meaning of freedom that he taught me."
Breakfast tickets are $6 each.