FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker joined the rest of the nation in paying homage to former prisoners of war and reaffirming its commitment to bringing home the nation's more than 80,000 military members still missing in action during the annual POW/MIA ceremony Sept. 20.

Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, served as speaker for the event at Veterans Park where he thanked former POW and retired Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Stamaris, a civilian with the Aviation Center Logistics Command, and his family for their sacrifice to help ensure the freedoms Americans enjoy today.

"Daniel's been one of our great Army civilians since 2001," Francis said, adding that Stamaris became a POW during the Gulf War in 1991 after the UH-60 Black Hawk he was flying in was shot down while on a mission to rescue a downed Air Force F-16 pilot. "We're glad to have Daniel here at Fort Rucker, where he also briefs SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) students, sharing his experiences as a POW. Thank you for your loyalty, your selfless service and your personal courage."

The general then pointed out that the post would be flying the POW/MIA flag over the headquarters building and at the ceremony as a reminder to all of America's commitment to bring home all its fallen heroes.

"We remember the personal courage and tremendous loyalty of our POWs, and we also continue to hold out hope for those missing in action and embrace their families," Francis said. "The selfless service of these great heroes in protecting our freedom serves as a shining example for all of us. They and their families have sacrificed greatly, and their legacy of honorable service touches every one of us here today."

One of those heroes, Stamaris, joined the general in emphasizing how important it is for the U.S. to never forget.

"It's always important to remember those who sacrificed for this country for the freedoms that we have," the former POW said. "And not just in recent times, but throughout the history of this country -- so many gave so much to ensure the freedoms that we have today."

Stamaris said the rest of the crew on the Black Hawk he was flying in when it was shot down perished in the attack, and that he was left with major injuries, including broken tibia, fibula, ankle, foot, pelvis and ribs, along with a shattered femur, and other internal and external injuries.

But faith kept him going after he was captured -- he had been loyal to his country, and he knew it would repay that loyalty.

"I never gave up. I always had hope that eventually our guys would find me, and if not that, then diplomatically something would happen," Stamaris said. "I didn't know how long I would be held, but I never gave up that hope that sooner or later I'd be released."

He spent eight days as a POW, held in Basra, Iraq, and outside Baghdad, he said.

"I just want to thank everyone for the support they've given me and my family over the years," he said. "I also want to encourage everyone to thank a veteran. If they don't know one or have one in their family, then if they see one out and about, thank them for their service and the sacrifices that they make each and every day."

And that sentiment was echoed by Francis in his closing remarks.

"We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our service members and families for the sacrifices they make to protect our freedoms," he said. "I can think of no better way to honor and remember them than to listen to their stories and learn from them. And, in so doing, help ensure that we pass a legacy of honorable service on to the next generation.

"Today, as we reaffirm our commitment to bringing all of our servicemembers home, we continue to link arms with our families and steadfastly keep the light on until our brave heroes are back home on American soil where they belong," Francis added. "I would ask that each of you please remember and hold close in your thoughts and prayers the many servicemembers currently deployed around the globe."