JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
A retired Air Force chaplain
extolled the contributions and sacrifices of all of America’s service members
last week as the 560th Flying Training Squadron again paid homage to the Air
Force fighter pilots who endured the horrors of prisoner-of-war camps during
the Vietnam War.
Col. Robert Certain’s address during a wreath-laying ceremony at Joint Base San
Antonio-Randolph’s Missing Man Monument was one of the highlights of the 43rd
annual Freedom Flyer Reunion March 4.
event also included the 19th annual POW/MIA Symposium, which featured the moving
stories of Air Force pilots who were imprisoned in North Vietnam, a “missing
man” formation flyover with four T-38Cs during the wreath-laying ceremony and
the 196th Freedom Flight, a way of honoring former POW pilots with a “fini”
flight that maintains the tradition of celebrating the final flight a pilot
makes during a tour.
who was imprisoned along with two other aircrew members for 101 days in Hanoi
after their B-52 was shot down Dec. 18, 1972, by surface-to-air missiles over
North Vietnam, remembered Don Rissi, Bobby Thomas and Walter Ferguson, the aircrew
members who did not survive the attack.
the highest ideals of the American aviator and demonstrated the greatest love
of all by laying down their lives for their friends,” he said. “Let us remember
all those who did not return from battle in this and in subsequent conflicts
against the enemies of freedom and human dignity.”
saluted “the men and women of our armed and uniformed services who have made
and kept us and our allies free through the years and worked to restore the
nations we have vanquished.
“They paid the
sacrifice and many times the ultimate sacrifice for the liberties we now
enjoy,” he said. “Let us honor them by committing ourselves to ensure that this
great nation will be a land where all people share the benefits of true freedom
and gladly accept its disciplines.”
Col. Matt Isler, 12th
Flying Training Wing commander, noted that the day’s activities were taking
place on the same day 43 years ago when “three C-141 Starlifters lifted off
from Hanoi with 108 newly released prisoners of war, 29 of which would become
He also referred
to the day as a time to celebrate and remember – to “celebrate the release of
all 591 POWs who were repatriated during Operation Homecoming” and “remember
the 49,000 Americans who never came home from Southeast Asia, the 47,000 killed
in action and the 1,624 Americans who remain unaccounted for there.
“We who came home
must never forget those who did not,” Isler said.
Later in the day,
five Freedom Flyers told their stories during the POW/MIA Symposium in Fleenor
Auditorium. Among the speakers were retired Col. Kenneth Cordier, who was held
in prisons in and around Hanoi for more than six years after his F-4C Phantom
was struck by a surface-to-air missile, and retired Col. Joseph Milligan, who
spent nearly six years as a POW.
On the day before
the wreath-laying ceremony and symposium, Paul Granger of Coronado, Calif.,
became the 196th Freedom Flyer. A B-52 pilot, his aircraft was shot down just
two days after Certain’s. He and Tom Klomann, a navigator on that mission who
has attended numerous Freedom Flyer reunions, are the only known survivors of
Lt. Col. Joel
DeBoer, 560th FTS commander, said it is an honor for the “Chargin’ Cheetahs” to
be part of the Freedom Flyer tradition.
the Cheetahs, it is meaningful to us that we could be a part of the process to
return them to the air and help them close one chapter of their lives,” he said.
“Very rarely do we get a chance to meet and honor the heroes that gave so much
to their country.”