September 18, 2014 --
Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany’s Town and Country Restaurant was the scene where more than 100 attendees, including retirees, veterans and base personnel, assembled to commemorate the installation’s annual Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day ceremony, Friday.
Former POW and guest speaker for the event, William Dewey Freeman, stood in the room filled with service members from several eras and recounted vivid, personal stories from his experiences during his three-year capture.
An Army veteran, Freeman served in both World War II and the Korean War but recalled firsthand accounts about his service career, from seven decades ago.
“I got captured twice,” Freeman said as he opened his speech. “How lucky can you get? Anyway, the unlucky part of my story is a number. The number 12 is very unlucky for me. I signed up to be drafted on February 12, 1945; on October 12, 1950, I got called back in again. And, what is so unlucky (for me is), I got to Korea on February 1, and got captured on February 12. I was only there 12 days. I hadn’t even been there long enough to know my company commander’s name.”
The audience sat in total silence as Freeman unveiled layer-after-layer of details about his capture, his escape, his recapture and as he reminisced about some of the comrades he lost along the way.
From beginning to end, Freeman’s speech tapped into a range of emotions – sadness as he spoke of some of the horrific things he experienced and witnessed, as well as moments of laughter as he shared some the hilarious things he did in order to survive his ordeal.
Freeman’s narrative of his memoirs culminated with a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the crowd, who honored him after hearing the chronology of his POW experience as well as for his years of service to his country.
MCLB Albany’s Commanding Officer, Col. Don Davis, presented the honoree with “a little taste of Albany,” — a framed print of Dubber’s Oak, the installation’s historical landmark, which is situated outside the main entrance to the base.
Maj. Alexander Vanston, staff secretary, Marine Corps Logistics Command, who was guest speaker at the 2013 event, commented on what the POW/MIA ceremony meant to him.
“It is just a way to remember the sacrifices that have been made, the particular sacrifices of those POWs and those that remain missing in action to this day,” Vanston said. “The POWs (and) MIAs have a very close spot in my heart.”
According to Vanston, he was a team leader for a 10-man recovery team, assigned to a joint POW/MIA command from 2006 to 2009.
“I traveled throughout Europe and Southeast Asia recovering the remains of those missing,” he recalled. “It was a great experience. A lot of people may think that it is a little bit morbid, but it is a very positive experience because sometimes you get to meet the families of those that you’re looking for. I think most people who wear the uniform would find (that) an honor and very rewarding having the ability to do that.
“There’s nothing like closing a site and knowing that you’re bringing somebody back (who) has been missing for 40 years, sometimes 50 or 60 years from World War II,” Vanston added.
Betty Cloud, lead wait staff, Town and Country Restaurant, MCLB Albany, discussed the number of years she has worked in preparation of the POW/MIA Recognition Breakfast and the significance of the event to her.
“I have been doing this for 13 years now,” Cloud reflected. “I have set up all of the POW/MIA breakfasts that we’ve had since I’ve been here. In my experiences, I get to see a lot of different people who were in other wars.
“My dad was a veteran. He was Marine for 26 years; served his country and saw a lot of wars during the time he served,” she said. “So, this event kind of brings the memories home for me.”
Other special guests in attendance were former POWs, 1st Lt. Lee James and Maj. Charles McGhee, both former Air Force pilots. Gloria Johnson, daughter of MIA, Korean War veteran, Master Sgt. Roy Edward Barrow, was also among the special guests as well.
Freeman also gave special recognition and appreciation to his longtime friends and traveling companions, Tom and Linda Davis, who accompanied him to the ceremony.
For additional details on Freeman’s POW experiences and to read more of his memoirs, visit: www.koreanwareducator.org/memoirs/freeman_william_d/index.htm#Contents