By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsSeptember 21, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker joined the rest of the nation in reaffirming its commitment to honoring its service members who were held captive by its enemies and bringing home each of its more than 82,000 military members still missing in action from the nation's wars during its Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Ceremony Sept. 21.
"We gather here on a beautiful Alabama morning in Veterans Park on a solemn and important occasion for our community and for our nation," said Col. William A. Ryan III, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker. "(We are here to) pause and honor the service and sacrifice of all of our prisoners of war, those who are still unaccounted for and their families."
Since its inception in 1979, POW/MIA ceremonies across the U.S. on the third Friday of September serve as an opportunity for the country's citizens to "remember, reflect and acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those in the service of our country who, in responding to our nation's call to arms, forfeited their individual freedoms as prisoners of war, or who lost their lives and remain missing," Ryan continued.
"So, today at Fort Rucker and across our nation, in military installations and towns and cities, businesses and at veterans organization posts, we fly the familiar black and white flag, and pause to remember and reaffirm together to our heroes: you are not forgotten," he added. "In recognizing these special Americans, we must continue to ensure we do everything we can to account for those who have never returned in the wartime service of our great nation. In doing so, we continue to hold out hope for the over 82,000 Americans who still remain missing from WWII, the Cold War, and the Korean and Vietnam wars."
Ryan then recognized retired Sgt. 1st Class Daniel J. Stamaris, who was a crew chief and gunner on a UH-60 Black Hawk that was shot down during Operation Desert Storm 1991. He suffered numerous severe injuries from the crash and was captured by Iraqi forces.
He now works for the Aviation Center Logistics Command, but also assists today's Soldiers by helping out with Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training, Ryan said, helping them understand what they can expect and how they may survive captivity.
"Thanks for your continued leadership, the positive example you set for all of us and for being here to share a special day -- your day of recognition," the colonel said.
And on his day of recognition, Stamaris had a message he wanted to impart to today's Soldiers who may one day find themselves in a situation similar to his own.
"Never give up -- somebody else has probably got it worse off than you do," he said, "I always have that mentality that says, 'Yeah, I'm in this situation. But what about someone else who is in another situation?' It all ties back to never giving up, and always having hope and faith in you, your country, your fellow service members -- your fellow human beings, for that matter."
He added that the hope he felt never wavered.
"There were points where I was actually left alone -- I guess they (the Iraqis) thought I was going to die," Stamaris said. "But I always had that hope that my fellow Soldiers would find me, or maybe diplomatically getting me back. I never gave up that hope that somehow the government would get me back home. I never thought they'd ever give up on me.
"It all comes down to no one being left behind," he added. "It's part of the modern day warrior ethos -- that is what we always strive for: no one is left behind."
And work continues on the accounting for all of America's missing heroes, said Ryan.
"Since we conducted our POW/MIA recognition last year, the U.S. government has accounted for nearly 200 previously missing service members," he said. "While we know there are still tens of thousands of fallen Americans who remain missing from our many wars, our nation continues to work hard to bring all of them home."