JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - A special Pearl Harbor Colors ceremony was held Sept. 17, 2015 paying homage to the service and sacrifices of those who were missing in action (MIA) and prisoners of war (POW).
“To date, over 83,000 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and the ongoing War on Terror,” said Navy Region Hawaii historian Jim Neuman, who served as ceremony emcee.
“That's 83,000 fathers, sons, brothers and friends. Since tomorrow is the official POW/MIA Recognition Day around the country, we gather here on this day to re-affirm our heartfelt promise that they are ‘not forgotten,'” he added.
The national anthem and parading of colors was provided by U.S. Pacific Fleet Band and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) Joint Service Color Guard.
Capt. Stanley Keeve, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and retired Navy Capt. Gerald L. Coffee, a former Vietnam War prisoner of war, salute as members of the Joint-Service color guard pass by during a Pearl Harbor Colors ceremony, held Thursday at the Pearl Harbor Visitor's Center. The special ceremony paid homage to the service and sacrifices of those who were missing in action (MIA) and prisoners of war (POW). The Pearl Harbor Colors ceremony highlights a different theme of military heritage every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Stoltz)
The ceremony is free and open to the public at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The Pearl Harbor Colors ceremony highlights a different theme of military heritage at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center every month.
This month's theme coincided with Sept. 18 as the official observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, allowing Americans time to pause to remember those who sacrificed in service to their country.
Retired Army veteran Bob Silva said he always makes a point to attend many POW/MIA events in order to remember friends he lost while serving in a Special Forces unit during the Vietnam War.
“As a Vietnam vet, I'm really close to this cause. Many of my guys [I served with] are still out there somewhere, and we are still looking for their bodies,” he said. “So when I found out they were doing this event, I just knew I had to show up.”
During the ceremony, Army Maj. Jonathon Doiron, deputy director for Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), spoke about his command's mission of providing the fullest possible accounting and recovery of lost service members still missing in action as a result to past national conflicts.
“Our nation exists because of, and depends upon, those who choose to serve selflessly,” he said. “Our veterans highlight the epitome of selfless service. There are still 83,000 service members missing, and it is our daily mission to conduct the research, field investigations and field recoveries necessary to bring these individuals home and provide their families with answers regarding what happened to their loved ones,” he added.
Retired Navy Capt. Gerald Coffee, the keynote speaker for the ceremony, shared his unique perspective as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War.
“To have been a POW is a very dubious distinction,” he explained. “It is not one I thought I would have when I re-enlisted as a young officer back in the 1960s. Although it is not ever my intention to go into the POW experience in detail, I want to give you some idea of what it was that helped me survive, in my case seven years and nine days in North Vietnam.”
While flying a combat mission off the USS Kitty Hawk in 1966, Coffee's plane was shot down by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns. He eventually was captured and held prisoner for more than seven years in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" before being released in 1973.
“We looked at our incarceration merely as another form of combat,” he said. “Our combat was against the enemy who held us there and tried to exploit us for military information and propaganda.”
Coffee attributed much of his survival to his unwavering faith - faith in himself, his country and his God.
“The first two little words that I saw scratched on the wall of my cell there were two words with an equal sign between them. That little formula simply said ‘God = Strength.' For me, that was really true. In fact, it was the key to my survival,” he added.
Musician 3rd Class Clifton Murray, of the Pacific Fleet Band, said the chance of meeting veterans, such as Coffee, and hearing their testimonials has given him greater appreciation of his service to his country.
“His words impress upon me the weight and the seriousness of the organization I've become a part of,” the California native explained after the ceremony.
“I've only been in the Navy seven years, but to meet people like him and those [veterans] who have come before, gives me such a deeper sense of pride in my country and makes me want to step up and do my part as a Sailor,” he added.
By Blair Martin Gradel, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Public Affairs
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