Recognizing Our Patriots' Sacrifices
September 19, 2011
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Maj. Gen. Mark MacCarley, First Army deputy commanding general, was the guest speaker for the POW/MIA ceremony held at the Rock Island Arsenal Sept. 16 to "recognize our Patriots."
The ceremony reminded Americans that freedom is not free and the United States remains committed to bringing more than 89,000 unaccounted service members home from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
"Today we come together as Americans to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those former POWs, and to remember the names of those missing in action," said MacCarley. "These are our true heroes, the ones who sacrificed everything in support of our freedoms, and it's our solemn and sworn commitment to bring them home one way or another."
Joel Himsl, Rock Island Arsenal garrison manager, invited 94 year-old Lyle Sheldon, a former WWII POW from Lost Nation, Iowa, who spent 26 months in captivity. "We are indebted to him and countless others like him for their courage and sacrifices in defense of this great nation," said MacCarley.
Former Private First Class Lyle Sheldon, who endured exhausting months laboring as a POW, and survived on meals of bread and potatoes while in captivity, represents a true story of courage and patriotism.
Lyle Sheldon was part of the 34th Infantry Division "Red Bulls", an Iowa National Guard Infantry Division whose 2nd Brigade -- consisting of almost 3,000 Iowans, which recently returned from a hard nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
"What's interesting about Lyles' story," MacCarley continued, "was the Red Bulls courageously faced down Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Corps and was out gunned by the Germans. He and his Red Bulls where completely cut off and were bombed for days and days. Running short of water, food and ammunition; his unit was forced to surrender."
Lyle spent the next two plus years in captivity. He became a POW in Northern Africa, was transferred to Italy and eventually to a POW camp in Germany. As the war came to a close, the Germans put the POWs through a forced march for 300 miles in one big circle, to prevent escape and the opportunity to rejoin American forces. He walked in a pair of boots that were held together with pieces of tape and string.
As a former POW, Sheldon was invited to travel on the inaugural Quad City Honor Flight trip on November 1st, 2008, to visit the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated to honor the sacrifices of veterans. Gen. Colin L. Powell happened to recognize the patch of the 34th Red Bulls Sheldon was wearing during the visit and said "that was a good division." "I thought so too," replied Sheldon.
The recognition day ceremony is traditionally observed on the third Friday of September by signed presidential proclamation. "We will never give up on the search for those who are held prisoners of war or have gone missing under our country's flag," said President Barack Obama in his 2011 POW/MIA proclamation. "We honor their sacrifice, and we must care for their families and pursue the fullest possible accounting for all missing members of our armed forces."