The sound of the The Air Force ROTC marching in line outside Robert Carr Chapel was heard Thursday as it lined up to attend the 24th annual POW-MIA ceremony in honor of those who were prisoners of war.
The TCU Arnold Air Society hosted the ceremony Thursday afternoon, welcoming Elmo Baker, a retired lieutenant colonel of the United States Air Force and president of a POW group.
The ceremony corresponds with the national POW ceremony that will take place in Washington today. The ceremony is held every third Friday of September and lasts for 24 hours. TCU started its ceremony Wednesday at 5 p.m. with the raising of the POW black and white flag.
Thursday’s events started with a candle-lighting ceremony in recognition of the procedures to follow if one were to become a prisoner of war.
Baker, 76, spoke of his captivity in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He was held hostage for six years after his plane was shot down in 1967. His ejection from the plane snapped his femur, he said. His initial torture consisted of twisting his injured leg and more beatings. His left thigh eventually received medical attention, but it was only pinned together with a stainless steel pin about 14 inches long.
He was also held in cold soak isolation for days in January of 1969. “Cold soaking” is confinement in an outside cage in cold weather wearing little to nothing. He received occasional beatings throughout the first four years of his captivity for communication violations, he said.
Baker was released in 1973 and retired in 1978.
His story of remembrance is one of thousands of people who were taken prisoner. He said that more than 2,500 people were taken hostage during Vietnam, but only 500 lived to tell their stories. They are accomplished Americans, Baker said.
“They don’t sit around with a cup in their hand – they are governors and teachers,” Baker said.
He and presidential candidate John McCain were held prisoner in the same camp, Baker said.
“He was a brave guy,” he said. “He came in with a good attitude as though he was a Boy Scout in a Boy Scout camp.”
Cadets all have feelings of gratitude and respect for Baker and other POW’s, said Alex Gwin, commander and junior engineering major.
“This is a really neat thing,” Gwin said. “Our speaker was gone for six years, he was tortured several times a week, he was away from his family. Everyone who goes into the Air Force realizes that they could be shot down. It’s a sacrifice that they make. This is to honor the immense sacrifice.”
Solomon Sonya, cadet colonel and senior computer science major, feels that it is events like this that remind him of why he chose to stand up for his country.
“It’s an eye opener that reminds us what were doing,” Sonya said. “If we are not reminded, we take for granted the commitment we took for the country.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the POW flag and American flag were lowered. The flag was kept under watch overnight in remembrance of the men and women who died in action.
Even through all his hardships, Baker said he does not regret his decision to fight for America.
“If I was 20 years old, I’d sign up and do it again,” Baker said.