The third Friday in September is National POW/MIA Day. On this day we nationally recognize those who are Prisoners of War or who have been missing in action. This year, we highlight the stories of three U.S. POWs-
On August 5th, 1964 Naval aviator Everett Alvarez was shot down and captured in North Vietnam. He was held as a prisoner of war at the Hoa La prison camp, until 1973 when he was brought back to U.S. soil. Imprisoned for over 8 years, Alvarez was the second-longest held U.S. POW. During this time, he endured routine beatings and torture from his captors. Alvarez was esteemed by his fellow prisoners as the first and only aviator at the prison camp for almost a year. Alvarez’s sincere hope gained him notoriety and was critical to his survival. Despite brutal torture and abuse Alvarez “was one of those optimists who always thought (he) would get out the next day.” After his release, Alvarez continued his career in the Navy, rising to the rank of Commander before retiring in 1980. He went on to serve in multiple government positions, including Deputy Director of the Peace Corps and Deputy Administrator of the Veteran’s Administration. In 2012, he was awarded the Lone Star Sailor Award, given to sea service veterans who have excelled with distinction in their respective civilian careers while exemplifying the U.S. Navy’s stated core values of honor, courage and commitment.
Photo Credit: BBC
On September 9, 1965, Naval commander and aviator James Bond Stockdale ejected from his A-4 Skyhawk after being shot down over North Vietnam. Landing in a village and captured by the North Vietnamese, this began his 7 years of captivity as a prisoner of war at the Hoa Lo prison camp, nicknamed by prisoners the Hanoi Hilton. As the senior Naval officer at the prison, Stockdale became a leader among the other prisoners, and organized a code of conduct among the prisoners and resistance against their captures. As a result, he suffered regular beatings and torture from his captors. Eventually, Stockdale was one of several prisoners placed in solitary confinement due to his resistance efforts. Stockdale was finally released in 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming. While he was in captivity, his wife Sybil had organized the League of American Families of POWs and MIAs, which worked to bring attention to the mistreatment of American POWs and support efforts for their release. In 1976, Stockdale was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of efforts during the war and in captivity. What makes his story of survival even more incredible is his life following his captivity. Stockdale’s 7 years behind enemy lines did not define him; he rose to the rank of Naval Vice Admiral by the time he retired from the Navy in 1979. He went on to serve as President of the Naval War College, and following his retirement President of The Citadel. Stockdale’s public service did not stop there; in 1992 he ran for Vice President of the United States on the Independent ticket alongside presidential candidate Ross Perot. James Stockdale was a true patriot, hero, and example of not allowing your past to define your future.
Photo Credit: USNA
On this day we remember men and women who survived unspeakable circumstances and were confronted with incomprehensible choices. Some are still here among us today; others have given the ultimate sacrifice. These men and women did not take incredible action for themselves but for their fellow Americans and for what this country represents to us and the world.
Written by: Alexis Vitiello
Edited by: Olivia Kauffman