Pensacola, Florida - Service members of the 359th Training Squadron organized a 24-hour Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Remembrance Run Sept. 20-21 around the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) courtyard onboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola.
More than 300 U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps service members attended the Vigil Run opening ceremony, with several of those service members volunteering to walk or run circuits of the courtyard from 3 p.m. Sept. 20 through 3 p.m. Sept. 21, taking shifts in an effort to keep the POW/MIA flag in motion for the 24-hour event.
359th Training Squadron Instructor Tech. Sgt. Matthew Barnes said the event served to not only create an awareness of the nearly 131,000 U.S. service members who have been classified as prisoners of war and the more than 82,000 U.S. service members classified as missing in action for the largely student population attending the event, but to ensure the memories of sacrifices made by service members from years past are not forgotten.
“Prisoners of War are held captive 24-hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said. “This is a not as well-known day that we recognize every year, and we wanted to start this run today [Sept. 20] and continue it for 24 hours to symbolize the vigilance and courage those POWs must have daily while held in captivity.”
Guest speakers at the event included former POW U.S. Navy Capt. (ret.) Robert Doremus, a U.S. Navy radar intercept officer who spent nearly 2,800 days in captivity in Vietnam and was released from captivity during Operation Homecoming on Feb. 12, 1973, and Master Chief Mario Rivers, the NAS Pensacola command master chief.
Doremus, who was forced to eject from his McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II over North Vietnam on Aug. 24, 1965, addressed the largely student audience on the importance of working together as a means of achieving common goals.
“The whole time we were there, we were joint forces. We had Marines, we had Air Force, we had Navy – enlisted and officer – and there were some civilians,” he said. “You followed your creed and you became part of a team. And the whole idea is that of the ‘team,’ and that’s what it looks like out there when you see these troops running, marching, and standing at attention – they’re a team. That’s how it works, and that’s how it worked in prison."
Rivers also spoke to the gathered students, stressing the importance of teamwork from the incept of a service member’s training and maintaining the strong heritage all services share.
“No matter the uniform that you wear, we’re all brothers in arms and we could all be put in harm’s way,” he said. “Here at NAS Pensacola we’re joint – one team, one effort, and that’s something we try to stress no matter if you’re Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. There’s a rich history in our country of folks who went to the front lines and served their country honorably and are still here today. It’s incumbent on us as leaders to ensure that we keep that legacy alive for years to come.”
Naval Air Station Pensacola, referred to as the ‘Cradle of Naval Aviation,’ is designed to support operational and training missions of tenant commands, including Naval Aviation Schools Command, the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training, Marine Aviation Training Support Groups 21 and 23 and is the headquarters for Naval Education and Training Command.