Air Force ROTC cadets and distinguished military guests gathered yesterday for the 27th Annual POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony. The ceremony was meant to celebrate the national military holiday that remembered prisoners of war and those missing in action.
The ceremony began with the posting of the colors and a candlelight ceremony in which ROTC cadets read the United States Military Code of Conduct. The six codes are crucial to ROTC members because they are the legal policies for military personnel who are captured by enemy forces.
Distinguished guest Lt. Col. Jara Lang welcomed the audience. Her profound belief and leading message that military personnel are connected and held together through faith was shared by other speakers as well.
“As a military culture, all of our members past, present and future are bound by duty and honor and united through sacrifice,” she said.
The guest speaker was Lt. Col. John Yuill, who served in the United States Air Force from 1954-1979. He said he was proud of the ROTC organization for hosting a ceremony every year because he believed that remembering those who died for us was important.
“All of us give something, and some of us give everything,” he said.
Yuill was a prisoner of war from December 1972 until March 1973 (98 days) in Northern Vietnam and spoke about his time as a captured soldier.
Yuill was humble in his speech, referring to his time spent as a POW as “unimpressive” compared to the “old heads”—men he met in prison camp who had been there for six or seven years. These were the men who developed the set of rules for the captured soldiers to live by when imprisoned, he said.
He recalled being shot down and captured during the Vietnam War in December 1972. It was during an 11-day air mission called “Linebacker II,” also referred to as the “Christmas bombings.” His B-52 crew was flying over Hanoi in Northern Vietnam. They were attacked by two “SAMs” (surface-to-air missiles) before all members of the crew ejected from the falling aircraft, he said. Immediately upon landing, he was surrounded and taken captive.
Yuill said over that 11-day period a total of 10 B-52 aircrafts, all containing six crew members, were shot down. Of the 60 who were shot down and captured, only 32 survived and came home, he said.
Upon his arrival to the POW camp, he found that his other crew members were also captured and in the same prison as he was. He said his crew was the only one who had all six members survive.
Yuill recalled his first week in the prison camp as the most uncomfortable because he was in solitary confinement.
“Your thoughts don’t tend to be positive and things don’t tend to look too good when you’re in that situation,” he said.Yuill said he shared a room with four or five other men, and they were only allowed out for a couple hours every day. A typical meal included either French bread (“not the good kind”) or cabbage soup.
“I wasn’t a picky eater in there, and I thought I had been hungry in my life, but I had never really been hungry,” he said. “And I found out when I was really hungry, I wasn’t a picky eater.”
Sophomore political science major and AFROTC Cadet Gabbi Dougherty said she was particularly inspired to hear what exactly Yuill went through, and looked up to him for his time spent as a POW.
“Anytime you listen to a prisoner of war, it’s very touching, and it’s very inspiring because you think ‘Maybe one day I go into active duty,’” Dougherty said.
Twenty-nine days after the bombing of “Linebacker II,” a cease-fire was signed by the United States. Those in charge of the camp told the men they would release them first by those who were injured and the rest would leave based on the amount of time they had been there, Yuill said. His crew was the last to have arrived and was last to leave.
Dougherty, who is also the Deputy Squadron Commander for the Arnold Air Society, helped organize the ceremony. She explained the ROTC held the ceremony as close to the third Friday in September as possible because it is the national day for POW/MIA recognition. It is to pay tribute to those who have fought for us and for POW’s and those missing in action, Dougherty said.
Senior strategic communication major Danielle Devoto, who is also the ROTC Mission Support Group Commander, felt similar inspiration because she said she plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps and be an Air Force pilot some day.
“Days like today are a really good chance for cadets and people in the military or people with family in the military to reflect on what other service members before have done and what they have put at risk, which are their lives, for freedom,” she said.