MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany honored former prisoners of war and those still missing in action during a recognition breakfast held at the Base Conference Center, Friday.
Two former POWs and a spouse of a former POW, now deceased, received applause for their sacrifices in serving the nation.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies are now held nationwide and worldwide on military installations, ships at sea, schools, churches and fire stations. The ceremonies focus on Americans remembering their responsibilities to stand behind those who serve the nation and do everything possible to account for those who do not return, according to the Web site, wwwpowmiaff.org.
“It is important we recognize the sacrifice of the former POWs and families who have had to live not knowing the status of their loved one,” said Col. Terry V. Williams, commanding officer, MCLB Albany. “They walked in the shadow of death and feared no evil; confident and trusting that the American people at home would remember their sacrifices. So we pay a small fraction of that cost by pausing to remember them each year.”
Jim “Moe” Moyer, state director of Rolling Thunder’s Georgia, Florida and Alabama chapters, reminded the ceremony’s audience of the event’s importance.
“As a former Coast Guard service member, it is a rare treat to spend today remembering and honoring former prisoners of war and those still missing in action with the Marines,” he said.
Moyer explained to the group that although motorcycles have become synonymous with his organization’s name, Rolling Thunder is a group whose mission is to publicize the prisoner of war and missing in action issue. Members educate the public about the many Americans left behind after all the nation’s participation in previous wars.
“Our objective is to correct the past and protect future veterans from being left behind should they become a prisoner of war or classified as missing in action,” he said, noting 60 percent of the group’s members are military veterans.
Moyer said Rolling Thunder was started by Army and Marine Corps veterans who were concerned about the plight of Vietnam veterans who had not returned with their lives or their freedoms.
“At that time, there were reports of over 10,000 sightings of live Americans living in captivity,” he said. “They felt compelled to have their voices heard and decided to host a gathering on Memorial Day weekend in 1988 on the steps of the nation’s capital.”
The organizers felt the roar of Harley-Davidsons and other motorcycles would announce their arrival. They contacted family members, veterans and advocacy groups. About 2,500 motorcyclists gathered at the capital to demand from political leaders a full accounting of prisoners of war and those still missing in action, Moyer added.
“That was our first demonstration and until all POWs and all MIAs are accounted for, Rolling Thunder will continue to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves,” he said. “That was 23 years ago, and as of this past year, the annual ride for freedom has grown to more than 800,000 participants.”
Moyer said since World War II, the most recent figure he has of unaccounted military personnel is 88,582.
“That is the current number of men and women in uniform who signed an agreement up to and including their lives,” he said. “Of those missing, 78,618 are from World War II, 8,114 from the Korean War, 120 are from the Cold War and thanks to the efforts of the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, there are 1,728 from the Vietnam War. That number was more than 2,400.”
“There are two Army service members missing from the current conflict, Moyer said. Sgt. Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, an Iraqi-American linguist, was captured in Iraq in 2006, and PFC Bowe Bergdahl, an infantryman, was captured in Afghanistan in June 2009.”
Holding up two posters of the men, Moyer said they are names and faces Americans should know and not forget.
Former POW, Lee James, a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II, attended the service with his wife, Palma. He was held as a prisoner of war in Germany for eight months.
“I keep telling people there are ex-POWs and there are ex-POWs, because some of their experiences were much worse than others,” James said. “I was a POW in Germany and was held in an officers’ camp. I really didn’t get any physical abuse, but we were all on a starvation diet. The German people weren’t eating much better than we were.”
James said he was very happy to get home, and events like MCLB Albany’s recognition ceremony, are a recall for former POWs, as well as a statement to the nation and people in the area.
Other POW/MIA events begin today and run through Saturday.
Rolling Thunder will host POW/MIA recognition activities at the National Prisoner of War Museum in Andersonville, Ga. The event will begin with a dinner on the site tonight at 6 p.m. There will be services Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. honoring ex-POWs and MIA personnel and will include the traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.theridehome.com.