KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - In his seven years, 10 months and one week
as a prisoner, Ernest C. Brace withstood sleepless nights and daily
tortures - from being buried in the ground up to his neck to a mock
execution. He attempted two escapes, which ultimately failed, and
eventually attempted suicide.
Ernest C. Brace stands during a ceremony where he received the Purple Heart and Prisoner-of-War Medals at Kingsley Air Force Base here, Aug. 16, 2013. Brace, a Marine in the Korean War era, was awarded the medals for his time as the longest-held civilian POW in the Vietnam War. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marcin Platek)
Brace, a Marine during the Korean War era, is the longest-held
civilian prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. For his wounds
and sacrifice, Brace received the Purple Heart and POW Medals at
Kingsley Air Force Base here, Aug.16, 2013.
Brace was captured in
1965 by the North Vietnamese Army when flying as a civilian contract
pilot for the United States Agency of International Development.
After his failed suicide attempt in 1967, he was transported to
the Hanoi Hilton, a POW camp where many Americans were held in
Vietnam. There, he met and shared a cell neighboring now-senator
John McCain, one of the instrumental figures behind Brace's awards.
Lt.Col. Kevin A. Williams, the inspector/instructor of 6th
Engineer Support Battalion, who also pinned the medals on Brace,
said that Brace never brought discredit upon his country and he
remained tough. Brace credited much of this durability to his
profession prior to his capture.
“The Marine Corps has trained me for that with the code of
conduct,” said 82-year-old Brace. “I knew what to tell them and I
kept telling people to live by that code.”
Brace began his Marine Corps career as an enlisted
aviation radar and radio technician when he was 15, two
years after the end of World War II. He decided to pursue a
career as an officer and earned his commission on August 16,
1951, the day before his birthday. Exactly 62 years later he
received his Purple Heart and POW Medals.
As a Marine
aviator, he flew more than 100 missions during his tour in
Korea. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his
courage and initiative during the conflict.
an example of what it is to be a Marine,” said Williams. He
went on to state that Brace is another example of a man who
exemplifies what America expects of her Marines.
Brace's awards were a long time coming, said Robert Maxwell,
a World War II Army Medal of Honor recipient who attended
“He's a great person and a great
American,” he said. “He earned these medals.”
medals were first recommended by Adm. James B. Stockdale
upon Brace's return in 1973, but were put on hold because of
his civilian status as a POW. However, the awards were
resubmitted 38 years later by McCain's office.
feels good to receive the awards as I have been paramilitary
all my life and felt I deserved the medal back in 1973,”
said Brace. “Over the years it has been re-applied for and
turned down four times. These awards symbolize what I did.
They mean quite a lot to me. It's been an adventure, and
this is sort of a reward for all those years of adventure I
have been through.”
Since Brace lives near Kingsley
AFB, he chose to be awarded there. But living by the motto
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” it was only right to have
the medals presented by Marines, said Williams. He and a
small group of Marines from 6th ESB set out from
Springfield, Ore., to honor Brace.
“They could have
had the Air Force to do it or Navy could have come here,”
said Williams. “But we are Marines, and Marines honor
Marines. It wouldn't be the right thing to do to pass up an
opportunity to take care of one of our own.”
was joined by a theater full of friends, family, airmen, a
number of local Marines from the Marine Corps League and
members of the local Military Officers Association of
America chapter named after Brace. Among the distinguished
visitors sat Maxwell, who was there to observe a fellow
veteran being honored.
For Maxwell and Brace alike,
these awards mean more than their acts of heroism. They are
memories of their selfless acts and sacrifice, but also of
exemplary actions that are passed on to future generations.
“It means a lot of bloodshed and pain usually. Medals
are, and I think I'll quote Napoleon on that, ‘a thank you
for a job well done and an example for others to emulate,”
Williams stated that Brace received
the two awards that nobody wants receive. He said that no
one wants to be injured or held prisoner by the enemy. Even
though being held as a POW for close to eight years, Brace's
actions demonstrate what it means to be honorable no matter
how bad it can get.
By USMC Cpl. Marcin Platek
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