Ceremony honors past, present POW/MIAs
September 26, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 26, 2013) -- Approximately 83,343 service members are still unaccounted for from America's time at war, and to remember the men and women who never came home, and those still held captive, Fort Rucker hosted a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action remembrance ceremony Sept. 20 at Veterans Park.
The United States' national POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday of September each year, and Fort Rucker's ceremony was one to be remembered as two former POWs were in attendance.
Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Stovall, of Atlanta, served in the Army when he was taken as a POW. He also served in the Air National Guard once he returned from being a POW. He served in the Korean War as well as World War II, and is 95 years old.
"I became a POW six days before D-Day," he said. "I ended up at Stalag Luft III. It is amazing that I survived. Fifty of us were caught and Hitler ordered us to be shot, but five of us escaped and made it back to the U.S."
Stovall and the co-pilot were the only survivors of the crash. He was held for one year and said since he was an officer they did not treat him too terribly, though he only weighed 98 pounds when he made it out of the camp.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Stamaris, of Headland, was not so lucky.
During his time as a POW during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, he suffered life-threatening injuries from his crash and was left to die several times.
"It's only by the grace of God that I am alive," he said, adding that the crash killed five of his crewmates when the Black Hawk hit the ground at approximately 150 mph.
Stamaris was assigned to the Flying Tigers 2-229th Attack Helicopter Battalion out of Fort Rucker when he spent eight days in the hands of the Iraqis after the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter he was a crew chief in was shot down while on a search and rescue mission.
Col. John Cyrulik, Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization director, said that it was an honor for the men to attend the ceremony.
"Today all of us reaffirm a most sacred obligation -- that we must never forget the men and women who did not come home, and that we must never stop trying to return them to their Families and the countries they fought to protect," he said.
Hope is not lost, continued Cyrulik, for 40 service members have been accounted for so far this year, including an Alabama native, thanks to advances in technology and those working in global search, recovery and laboratory operations.
"Our former and current POWs serve as an inspiration to us all," he said. "In many cases these brave men and women endured terrible hardships and were subject to horrific torture, humiliation and deprivation by our enemies."
Stamaris and Stovall said it meant a lot to be recognized for their service, because many of them went through "an awful lot."
"It makes me feel good that people are recognizing the service that has been given by so many service members throughout our history," he said. "The most important thing, though, is that we don't ever forget what they went through, not just the ones that are POWs, like myself, but also (those who are) missing in action."
Around 20 motorcycle riders from several clubs participated in the event to show that people care and are not forgetting.
"It is a matter of us not letting anyone ever forget what these guys have done and why they did it. We want to make sure that they are respected and that Soldiers are never treated like they were when they came back from Vietnam," said Staff Sgt. Shane Cook, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment and the combat veterans motorcycle association's public relations officer.
Cook said that he is proud to be a part of Fort Rucker when he sees how the installation is supporting the community and veterans.
"It means a lot to the guys who have served and the Families that are still searching. This country was founded on freedom and there is only 1 percent that is willing to fight for that freedom, and that is a pretty tall order," he said.