Lackland honors former POWs with new-look ceremony
Former prisoner of war and Army Corporal Jimmy Chavez accepts a baton inscribed with his name Sept. 16 from Staff Sgt. Mark Marberg of the 24-hour Vigil Run Flight, during the Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony. (Photo by William Belcher)
by Wayne Amann
Air Force ISR Agency Public Affairs
9/19/2011 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Six former prisoners of war received a hero's welcome Sept. 16 during Lackland's POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony/Breakfast, hosted by the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency in the Gateway Club's Main Ballroom.
The Air Force honorees included Lt. Col. (Ret.) Larry "Lucky" Chesley, held captive in Southeast Asia for seven years; Lt. Col. (Ret.) Hector M. Acosta, who spent 111 days in captivity in Southeast Asia; Maj. (Ret.) William Roberts, who was a prisoner in a mobile German POW camp for nearly 11 months during World War II and Tech. Sgt. (Ret.) Joe Alexander, who was captured by the Japanese and held for three and-a-half years in WWII.
At 15, Alexander was the youngest American POW in history.
The Army honorees were Staff Sgt. Oscar Cortez, and Cpl. Jimmy Chavez who both spent two and a half years in North Korean POW camps during the Korean War.
"All six of these individuals are great men who bore great sacrifices," Air Force ISR Agency Commander and keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Robert Otto said. "Sadly, as great as their sacrifices were, they were, in a manner of speaking, more fortunate than the thousands of brave souls who've never returned."
The dual purpose of the ceremony is to pay tribute those missing in action and to let the family members who grieve for them or still wait their return know they are not alone. Plus, it expresses thanks and appreciation to those who have returned from enemy prisoner of war camps.
"It's nice to be honored and not forgotten," Cortez said. "It's always an honor for me to meet the young people serving now because they're the ones who'll carry us forward. We wish the best for them."
Until this year, the annual Lackland event has been held on Security Hill, either in the AFISRA headquarters courtyard or in the agency headquarters auditorium.
"In the past, we put our heroes up on a stage. We get a look at their faces and clap. But, it limits an audience, to actually meet these inspiring men," Otto said. "That's why we decided to hold this ceremony as a breakfast at the Gateway."
Besides moving the event to a different venue, two additions were made to the remembrance itself.
The Missing Man Table Ceremony was added to acknowledge veterans missing in action and to honor their sacrifices for the United States. It's designed to be an emotionally moving ceremony enabling people to better appreciate the scope of the MIA issue.
The other addition was the presentation of batons by members of the Lackland 24-Hour POW/MIA Vigil Run Flight to the honorees.
The batons, individually inscribed with the names of the six POWs, were kept moving for 24-hours straight by Airmen who took shifts around the clock at Lackland's eight running tracks. During the run, the names of all 81,864 MIAs, from WWII to present day, were read at the tracks.
Originally scheduled to be held in front of the Gateway Club, along with a motorcycle escort to the Basic Military Training Graduation by members of the American Legion Rider, Post 593, the baton exchange was moved into the Gateway when the threat of lightning cancelled the BMT outdoor parade. The riders, minus their motorcycles, escorted the runners inside the ballroom.
A wreath placement paid tribute to the many fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who could only be with the ceremony in spirit, while a special memento presentation by the AFISRA commander to the honorees and a joint service medley, performed by members of the Air Force Band of the West, rounded out the morning remembrance.
Observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans' facilities.
The President issues a proclamation commemorating the observances and reminds the nation of those Americans who have sacrificed so much for the country.