Leader Blues

Monday, September 24, 2007

TOP STORY >>POW/MIAs recognized in ceremony held Friday

Leader staff writer

Airmen at Little Rock Air Force Base gathered Friday to honor a special group of patriots during a National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony.

“We meet here today to honor those who once were bound and remember those that are still missing,” Chaplin Tony Wade said during the prayer. “As we honor their sacrifice, we renew our commitment to the Airmen Creed – ‘I will never leave an Airman behind.’ This is our creed, this is our commitment,” Wade said.

Former prisoners of war Silas B. Legrow, Audrey T. Harris, Thomas W. Bonds, Marion Morgan, Wayne Elliott and David O. Bowlan were honored for their sacrifices during the ceremony. All are Arkansas residents.

“Their presence here today is a testament to human perseverance and is proof positive that our government will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to repatriate every American prisoner of war,” Sr. Master Sgt. John Spillane, of the 29th Weapons Squadron and ceremony coordinator, said.

Friday’s ceremony on base, as well as others held throughout the country, was about honoring and remembering – remembering those captured and repatriated, and remembering those who have not yet returned.

“Currently there are more than 88,000 Americans remaining missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War,” Spillane said.

The six Arkansans honored Friday all returned home and epitomized the military code of conduct, a guide for the behavior of military members who are captured by hostile forces that was established in 1955 by President Dwight Eisenhower.

“They have demonstrated they have not forgotten that they are Americans. They have fought for the freedoms we enjoy every single day in our great country. They are responsible for their actions and dedicated to the principles that make our country free,” Spillane said.

Legrow, who lives in north Pulaski County, was a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion in the Philippines. After four months of brutal fighting, no ammunition, with medicine running low and two days of rations left, his unit commander surrendered to the enemy to prevent an all-out slaughter.

After his capture he was forced to march to San Fernando, Pampanga, as part of the Bataan Death March. During the 10-day march without food or water, 1,500 prisoners died within the first 40 days, some from falling behind and 50 more died each day thereafter. Legrow was repatriated in August 1945.

Harris was sent to Korea in July 1950 where his unit was constantly engaged by North Korean forces. In January 1951, while on mobile patrol, his unit was ambushed by Chinese forces; 10 died and seven were captured. He was held at three different camps and was released in August 1953 after two years and seven months.

Bonds voluntarily joined the infantry in WWII and was a B-24 copilot. He was shot down and captured in Italy after flying 19 missions over enemy territory. He returned with honor at the end of the war.

Morgan joined the Army at 19 and spent a total of six years in Korea and 32 months as a POW. He wrote a book about his experiences called “Telling the Folks Back Home.”

Elliott was drafted into the Army at the age of 18.

In France in 1944, his unit lost communications with its commanding regiment and was engaged with enemy forces, quickly becoming outnumbered.

His units’ weapons became ineffective and eventually were no longer able to inflict damage upon the enemy. The unit could no longer resist.

After their capture, he and his unit endured an 11-day forced march through the snow to a Stalag POW camp. He was repatriated in May 1945.

Bowlan was an Army Air Corp engineer and top-turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator.

On May 10, 1944, while flying his 25th mission over enemy territory, his aircraft was shot down.

He suffered burns and was captured and hospitalized for two months and eventually transferred to POW camp Stalag Luft Four.

In February 1945, all prisoners who could walk set off to the west on the Black March. He and 6,000 other American and British airmen marched more than 600 miles in 87 days.

He was repatriated April 16, 1945 and later wrote “I was a guest of the Germans for 342 days.”

Base commander Brig. Gen. (Select) Rowayne Schatz felt truly inspired Friday by the honored POWs.

“What I feel most today is inspiration. To be amongst our guests today is truly inspiring, we are in debt of gratitude for your services,” Schatz said. “I for one hope to God if I were ever in that situation that I came back as honorably as all of you have,” he told those honored.

To pay tribute to those who could not be there with them, a table set for five was reserved to honor Americans still missing from each of the five services — Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

On the round table, which recognized the everlasting concern for those missing, was a white tablecloth symbolizing the purity of motives when answering the call of duty; a single red rose representing the loved ones who have kept the faith as they await their return and answers; a vase tied with a yellow ribbon symbolizing the nation’s continued determination to look for the missing; a slice of lemon on each plate to remind all of the bitter fate of those captured and missing on a foreign land; a pinch of salt for tears for those missing and the families that seek answers; inverted glasses and empty chairs to remind everyone that those missing are not in attendance.