JBSA-Randolph honors POWs during 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexandria Slade
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs
Members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron hosted the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion and 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium Friday at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph to honor all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War.

The annual event included tours, a wreath-laying ceremony, a missing man formation flyover and a symposium. Col. Matthew Isler, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Orson Swindle, former POW, were featured as guest speakers during the wreath-laying event at the foot of JBSA-Randolph’s Missing Man Monument.

“Today we look back to honor the service and celebrate those who came home,” Isler said. “We pause to remember those who did not return, those 1,636 Airmen who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.”

Swindle, who was held in captivity for seven years after his F-8E aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam Nov. 11, 1966, spoke of the importance of the sacrifices made by his comrades who did not come home, and the duty of current service members in honoring that sacrifice through their actions.

“The [POWs and MIA members] are extraordinary people who were caught in extraordinary circumstances and turbulent times,” Swindle said. “We all benefited by their presence, their demeanor, their courage, their integrity, all of these wonderful attributes we attribute to great leaders. They were more than just being a pilot or an aircrew man or an infantry officer. They were leaders. They lead. They set the example. And to you, our younger generation, I would say to you because you stand on their shoulders … earn this. Don’t let them down.”

Following the wreath-laying ceremony, individuals had the opportunity to hear six former POWs share experiences from captivity and lessons in perseverance during the 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium in the JBSA-Randolph Fleenor Auditorium.

Speakers included retired Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., the first American aviator to be shot down over North Vietnam and retired Air Force Col. Carlyle Harris, who introduced the tap code to fellow POWs during captivity to facilitate secret communication between prisoners.
Retired Gen. Charles Boyd, Vietnam War combat pilot and former POW, was in attendance for this year’s events and expressed that the Freedom Flyers’ legacy serves as inspiration for today’s Airmen.

“I think they understand the commitment that warriors make to their country and we’re living symbols of that,” Boyd said. “These guys are growing in their profession. But to have some symbols of the older fellows who served in the different era, in different wars, I think is valuable to them.”

The reunion began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status.