By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterSeptember 27, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 27, 2012) -- Fog and a sprinkle of rain set a somber scene at the post's Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Remembrance Ceremony in Veterans Park Sept. 21.
The ceremony paid tribute to the men and women of the armed forces who endured hardships while defending the nation's freedom as POWs and remembered those still MIA, and Chaplain (Col.) Dennis Newton, chief of operations of the religious support office, delivered a prayer to help those in need of closure.
"We celebrate our brothers and sisters in arms who have been captured and are yet missing. We ask you that the captives may be set free, that Families be reunited, that lives may be renewed. We ask you to bring closure to the missing, that, alive or dead, loved ones may have relief and a sense of ending may be brought to them," he prayed.
Several civic and veteran organizations appeared at the ceremony including the Ex-Prisoners of War Association, Disabled American Veterans, Wiregrass Patriot Guard Riders, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.
One veteran, Arthur J. Osepchook, retired master sergeant who flew on B-17s/29s/36s/and 52s, said the ceremony was very emotional for him.
"My crew became prisoners of war when the aircraft went down. I and another Soldier fell out of the aircraft on my 21st mission. It was a miracle that I got out of the plane because I was a gunner and gunners don't get out," he remarked about the ordeal. "The tail was blown off and I had to bail out, but centripetal force kept the other crew members inside the aircraft. It crashed with the pilot and engineer still inside. They never found the crash site because the Germans pretty much destroyed everything. They never found their bodies."
Col. Brian D. Bennett, 1st Aviation Brigade commander, was the host of the ceremony and spoke at the event.
"POWs and MIAs are some of America's most revered heroes. How do we, as a nation, thank those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf? We begin by never forgetting them or their sacrifices. They served with dignity and honor in the worst of human conditions: starvation, isolation, torture and the ever-present threat of death. And even during the darkest hour they demonstrated remarkable courage with unwavering devotion to Family and country. Their strength is a testament to American character," he said.
The audience was reminded to never forget those heroes and patriots, and how important it is to remain dedicated to continuing the search efforts for those still missing in the line of duty.
"We will not forget them or their Families who have sacrificed so much, too much. These Soldiers endured a great challenge, especially as Americans in the dark hours of war and conflict--the loss of personal liberty. Today we recognize their sacrifice and our obligation to them to keep searching for every single Soldier who did not make it home. We must not allow the sacrifices of these patriots to pass from our nation's conscience. America owes these great men and women our gratitude," he said.
Bennett also remarked on the sacrifice and resiliency of the Families of MIAs.
"As part of the American Family my heart goes out to the thousands of Families tormented by the uncertainty due to the loss of loved ones whose whereabouts remain unknown. Many of these Families suffered through decades of pain, without certainty of the final fate of their loved one. We are indebted to them," he said.
Many veterans remarked on their time in the service and what it meant to them for Fort Rucker's continued dedication to the POW/MIA Day.
"This subject is very sad. I think about it all the time, but I sure appreciate this day and what Fort Rucker does to honor and remember those who never came back," said Osepchook. "It's sad for the Families of Soldiers who are missing in action, but they are still finding Soldiers in Korea and in China also. I was in the Army, then I transferred to the Air Force, and I am very proud to serve them as they both served me."
Bob Cooper, retired chief warrant officer 4 and commander of Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 6683, also reflected on how the event affects him and other veterans he encounters.
"It is very nice to have events and ceremonies like this. There are still three Soldiers from my previous unit that are missing in action. We don't know if they are still alive or not from back in the 70s. It's very important for the community to realize that there are still service members missing," he said.
Finishing the ceremony, Bennett paid honor to all POWs, MIAs and their Families.
"So today let us pay tribute to the POWs who have returned and all those who did not, and to the Families and veterans who keep the basic principle of personal honor close to their hearts. May God bless America and those service members who are still unaccounted for," he said.