FORT IRWIN, Calif.- Barstow, Calif. resident David Villafana was captured by the North Korean Army on Oct. 31, 1950 and held as a Prisoner of War until 1953.

Almost 60 years later, Mr. Villafana formally received a Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered during his time as a POW as Fort Irwin Garrison Commander Col. James H. Chevallier pinned the award to Mr. Villafana's left breast pocket during Fort Irwin and the National Training Center's National POW/MIA Day ceremony on Sept. 17.

"When we can come together as a community to honor and recognize the sacrifice of American heroes from within our community well it is a particularly great day to serve," Col. Chevallier told the crowd of more than 100 Soldiers, family members, civilians and community members gathered on the lawn of the Fort Irwin Garrison headquarters for the ceremony.
Honoring and remembering POWs and MIA is what the day is about, Col. Chevallier said.

"On National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Day we remember and pay tribute to the American men and women who have yet to return from our battlefields, and we express profound gratitude to those who returned only after facing the unimaginable hardship of being a prisoner of war," he said. "We also remember and recognize the families of our prisoners of war and those missing in action and honor the sacrifices they have made and the suffering they have endured on our behalf."

During the past year 10 Service members, who were once missing have been accounted for, he said.

"That number may not seem significant when compared to the more than 80,000 that remain on the registry, but of those 10: three were from the battlefields of Vietnam, three were from the battlefields of Korea, three were from the battlefields of World War II and lastly, a United States Marine who was accounted for from World War I," he said. "That is truly commitment and a demonstration of our Soldier's Creed to never leave a fallen comrade."

When Mr. Villafana initially received his Purple Heart, he unfortunately received it through the mail, Col. Chevallier said, noting that Barstow City Councilman Willie Hailey, Sr. contacted the National Training Center about presenting Mr. Villafana the award.

"It is my distinct honor and privilege today to be able to formally present the Purple Heart to Mr. Villafana," Col. Chevallier said.

Villafana served with the 24th Infantry Division and is part of the POW group known as the Tiger Survivors. He returned from captivity weighing only 98 pounds and spent 18 months recovering from the injuries he suffered during captivity.