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    Why we remember

    National POW/MIA Recognition Day  2020

    Photo By Sgt. Jacqueline Clifford | U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, deputy director for operations, Defense POW/MIA...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Apryl Hall 

    Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

    “On Earth as it is heaven.”

    It engulfed his mind as he stood there dirty, hungry and in pain. He struggled to hold his hands up against the wall. His knees shook as he spread his feet wide and tried with everything inside of him not to move a muscle, as he had just learned moments before moving resulted in a beating. He focused on those words in the Lord’s Prayer because it was all he could do in the moment. It gave him hope that it would all be over soon.

    More than 7,000 miles away, a tired yet determined woman watched adoringly as her three-year-old son interacted with a very well-known politician. The large banquet room is full of people she gathered together. She may not know every woman personally, but they all have the same story. Tears well in her eyes as her son pulls at the coattails of the familiar man.

    “Governor Reagan, would you help bring my daddy home?”

    Returning home those classified as Prisoners of Wars or Missing in Action is what the third Friday in September is set as aside to remember. National POW/MIA Recognition Day is on September, 18th 2020 this year. We will see ceremonies hosted across the U.S. and around the world at schools, military bases and government offices to ensure those who haven’t returned home from conflict are never forgotten.

    Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jim Hickerson, a former prisoner of war, was the man focused on that small phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. It was at that exact moment he had an epiphany that he could make it out of the infamous Hanoi Hilton alive.

    “I got that part out and I said, ‘What a minute, He’s here! He’s gonna help me, I’m gonna make it!’” he said. “I didn’t finish the prayer.”

    Jim spent more than six years as a prisoner of war after his A-7 aircraft was shot down in North Vietnam in 1967. He survived being shot down, the ejection from his aircraft and the gunfire that ensued after. He has a hard time taking credit for surviving day after day, year after year.

    “I wasn’t anything special, I was just so very lucky,” he said. “But a bunch of things got me through. My belief in the country, belief in what we were doing and belief in God.”

    Carole Hickerson remembers the day two men in uniform came to her door to deliver bad news like it was yesterday.

    “I remember the words exactly,” she said. “They said, ‘Your husband is missing in action.’ They didn’t say he was killed so, you know, you think they’re going to find him the next day or the next week.”

    Instead, years passed without Carole receiving any news about her husband’s incident. She was told to keep quiet about it in case his captors got wind of it, and used the information against him. She felt absolutely helpless, she added.

    “The anguish in the beginning was just awful,” Carole said.

    Tired of sitting idly in the dark, she was inspired to seek answers. Carole wrote a letter to congress and encouraged other women in her position to do the same. The letters flooded in.

    “I had never met other women in my same position,” Carole said. “Little by little, we got a loose-knit organization started.”

    And that organization grew. Attention for the cause is what Carole and the other wives sought after, and they relentlessly pursued it. They started a bumper sticker campaign, where the phrase “Don’t let them be forgotten” was coined. They organized events with celebrities and politicians to help bring awareness to their cause. Carole was integral in the birth of the POW/MIA memorial bracelets, and put the first bracelet with her husband’s name on it on the wrist of John Wayne, a moment she says was crucial to their efforts.

    “As the country got aware of the POWs, we hoped it improved their conditions,” Carole said. “We knew we couldn’t bring them home, but we knew we could make them more important.”

    All the hard work paid off when Carole and the group were able to get funding to start a non-profit organization, the National League of POW/MIA Families, for those just like them, those seeking answers about their missing loved ones.

    “My goal was so much a part of my inner self,” she said. “That was, to some extent, my salvation.”

    The year was now 1973, and back in Hanoi Jim began noticing tell-tale signs him and his fellow prisoners may be close to freedom. The camp was reorganized by shoot-down dates, the first indication something may be happening.

    One day, the camp commanding officer came to them and told them a peace proclamation would be read to them, but they were not to react.

    “They read the proclamation and we didn’t show any emotion,” Jim said. “He asked if we understood what he read,“Yes, we understand,’ but he read it again. After no reaction the second time, he threw down the paper and stomped off.”

    The men waited until they were in the safety of their cells to cheer and celebrate. When the day came to leave on busses to the airport, the men were cautiously optimistic, Jim said.

    “We kept thinking they were going to change their minds,” he said. “Don’t get too excited, then we loaded the plane. Don’t get too excited, then we were in the air. Don’t get too excited, then we heard ‘Feet wet,’ which meant we were over the gulf.”

    It wasn’t until the pilot came over the speaker and told the men to look out the windows when they began cheering wildly. There were two U.S. Navy F-4s flying escort on each wing.

    “It still brings tears to my eyes,” Jim said. “Everyone was hollering, I can’t even describe it. What a wonderful feeling that was.”

    Back in California, Carole was busier than ever serving as chairman of the board for the National League of POW/MIA Families and designing what would become one of the most iconic symbols in U.S. history. While she won’t take credit for its creation, it was her drawing for the organization letterhead that inspired the birth of a flag. The design included her husband’s picture and a slightly altered version of the bumper sticker slogan, both of which appear on the iconic black and white POW/MIA flag.

    “I had no dreams or any clue on how absolutely wonderful it would become to have a POW flag,” Carole said. “I appreciate it when I see it flying.”

    It had been six years without answers for Carole. She had helped so many, but still felt helpless herself. In May of 1973, a group of men who had been prisoners of war in Vietnam returned home, and Carole finally got the answers she had been searching for.

    “I found out he wasn’t coming home,” Carole said. “One of the crewmembers on his helicopter did survive, and he had pretty definitive information that Steve hadn’t made it. In some respects that was a blessing. As you know, families can hang on to hope for a long time.”

    The new information was confirmed shortly after, and Steve’s status was changed from missing in action to killed in action. But that didn’t stop her philanthropic agenda. Just a few days after learning of her husband’s passing, Carole decided to attend a party honoring Vietnam veterans and newly released prisoners of war.

    Upon returning to the U.S., Jim was invited to attend a welcome home party that had more than 30,000 attendees. As a honored guest, along with other prisoners of war. During a performance of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Jim noticed the woman sitting next to him had tears running down her face.

    “I put my arm around her and gave her a little kiss on the cheek,” Jim said.

    That woman was Carole. It was June 3rd, six years to the day that her husband Steve had been killed, something she finally learned just days earlier.

    Jim and Carole’s lives, woven together in a beautiful story, are each unique examples of why we have National POW/MIA Recognition Day. To honor those who never made it home alive, to support the families who have unanswered questions and admire those who endured hell and returned.

    Carole’s husband Steve’s remains were returned to her in 1999. Though she describes the day as hard, she says she is so grateful to those who recovered, identified and returned him home. And she is grateful for Jim, her husband of 46 years, for sticking by her side all these years.

    “I had had closure before that, but it brings it all to the forefront again,” she said. “I am so very lucky that I found Jim.”

    Carole says she is also appreciative of the members of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) who continue to answer the nation’s promise and give closure to so many families that have similar stories. And those families are exactly why she will continue to share her and Jim’s stories.

    “It speaks to the best part of humanity,” Carole said. “It speaks to the resiliency of human beings because it took that on both sides; on the families here and with the men over there.”

    And while Jim appreciates days of recognition like National POW/MIA Recognition Day and what it stands for very much, he is still just a man of faith. A man who feels blessed to be alive every day.

    While Jim was able to return home, National POW MIA Recognition Day is a way to remember not only those like Jim, but those who never made it home. It’s one day a year the public honors POWs, remembers those still missing, and supports the families who still wait every day for the return of their loved ones.



    Date Taken: 09.18.2020
    Date Posted: 09.29.2020 21:15
    Story ID: 379700

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