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JBSA-Randolph honors POWs during 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion

Airman 1st Class Hayden Tondee (left) and Senior Airman Willie Muhammad (right), Joint Base San Antonio Honor Guard members, stand at the Missing Man Memorial before the wreath laying ceremony, which was held in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion March 20 at JBSA-Randolph. (U.S. Air Photo by Melissa Peterson)

Airman 1st Class Hayden Tondee (left) and Senior Airman Willie Muhammad (right), Joint Base San Antonio Honor Guard members, stand at the Missing Man Memorial before the wreath laying ceremony, which was held in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion March 20 at JBSA-Randolph. (U.S. Air Photo by Melissa Peterson)

Phillip Jones, Vietnam combat infantry soldier, takes a closer look at the names on the POW MIA vehicle during the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph March 20. The events honor all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. To honor their return, their initial training included a “freedom flight.” The last group of POWs was released from captivity in North Vietnam March 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Harold China)

Phillip Jones, Vietnam combat infantry soldier, takes a closer look at the names on the POW MIA vehicle during the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph March 20. The events honor all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. To honor their return, their initial training included a “freedom flight.” The last group of POWs was released from captivity in North Vietnam March 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Harold China)

Col. Matthew Isler, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, speaks during the wreath laying ceremony March 20 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The annual event is held in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion which honors all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. To honor their return, their initial training included a “freedom flight.” The last group of POWs was released from captivity in North Vietnam March 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Harold China)

Col. Matthew Isler, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, speaks during the wreath laying ceremony March 20 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The annual event is held in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion which honors all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. To honor their return, their initial training included a “freedom flight.” The last group of POWs was released from captivity in North Vietnam March 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Harold China)

Retired Navy Capt. Mike McGrath, former Vietnam War POW, speaks about his experiences in captivity at the 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium, hosted by the 560th Flying Training Squadron at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Fleenor Auditorium March 20. McGrath was shot down by enemy fire over North Vietnam June 30, 1967 flying an A-4C “Skyhawk”. He was held as a POW for almost six years until his release March 4, 1973. The annual Freedom Flyer Reunion tradition began when members of the 560th FTS were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status toward the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Retired Navy Capt. Mike McGrath, former Vietnam War POW, speaks about his experiences in captivity at the 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium, hosted by the 560th Flying Training Squadron at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Fleenor Auditorium March 20. McGrath was shot down by enemy fire over North Vietnam June 30, 1967 flying an A-4C “Skyhawk”. He was held as a POW for almost six years until his release March 4, 1973. The annual Freedom Flyer Reunion tradition began when members of the 560th FTS were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status toward the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Collins (left), former Vietnam War POW, and retired Air Force Col. Elmo Baker, former Vietnam War POW, view Collins’ Freedom Flight photo during the 560th Flying Training Squadron Artifact Dedication ceremony and open house March 20 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The annual event, in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion and 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium, honors all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. Collins aircraft was shot down during a mission over North Vietnam Oct. 18, 1965, and was held captive by the North Vietnamese until his release Feb. 12, 1973. Baker’s aircraft was shot down during a mission over North Vietnam Aug. 23, 1967, and was held captive by the North Vietnamese until his release March 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Collins (left), former Vietnam War POW, and retired Air Force Col. Elmo Baker, former Vietnam War POW, view Collins’ Freedom Flight photo during the 560th Flying Training Squadron Artifact Dedication ceremony and open house March 20 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The annual event, in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion and 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium, honors all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. Collins aircraft was shot down during a mission over North Vietnam Oct. 18, 1965, and was held captive by the North Vietnamese until his release Feb. 12, 1973. Baker’s aircraft was shot down during a mission over North Vietnam Aug. 23, 1967, and was held captive by the North Vietnamese until his release March 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Retired Air Force Col. Mike Brazelton, former Vietnam War POW, and Maj. Joe Elam, 560th Flying Training Squadron evaluator pilot, display the Freedom Flight photo of the first POW Flight of Four during the 560th Flying Training Squadron Artifact Dedication ceremony and open house March 20 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The annual event, in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion and 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium, honors all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. Brazelton’s aircraft was shot down during a mission over North Vietnam Aug. 7, 1966, and was held captive by the North Vietnamese until his release March 4, 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Retired Air Force Col. Mike Brazelton, former Vietnam War POW, and Maj. Joe Elam, 560th Flying Training Squadron evaluator pilot, display the Freedom Flight photo of the first POW Flight of Four during the 560th Flying Training Squadron Artifact Dedication ceremony and open house March 20 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The annual event, in conjunction with the 42nd Freedom Flyer Reunion and 18th Annual POW/MIA Symposium, honors all POWs held captive during the Vietnam War. The tradition began when members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron were given the task to retrain more than 150 POWs returning to flying status. Brazelton’s aircraft was shot down during a mission over North Vietnam Aug. 7, 1966, and was held captive by the North Vietnamese until his release March 4, 1973. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Col. Matthew Isler, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, (right) and retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle (left), whose F-8E aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam Nov. 11, 1966, salute the wreath at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Missing Man Monument during a wreath laying ceremony March 20 to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action. (U.S. Air Photo by Melissa Peterson)

Col. Matthew Isler, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, (right) and retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle (left), whose F-8E aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam Nov. 11, 1966, salute the wreath at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Missing Man Monument during a wreath laying ceremony March 20 to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action. (U.S. Air Photo by Melissa Peterson)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- 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.