Why we Commemorate Prisoners of War and former POWs
Today marks the annual former POW Recognition Day
Today marks the annual former POW Recognition Day a day to honor the men and women who were prisoners of war throughout history. A day to never forget their courage, strength, and sacrifice for our freedom.
Prisoners of war (POWs) are soldiers held in captivity by an enemy during armed conflict. They face a wide range of challenges, both mental and physical, during their captivity.
Physically, prisoners of war are often subject to poor living conditions, lack of food, and inadequate medical care. They also face brutal interrogations, physical and psychological torture, and forced labor. These conditions can lead to malnutrition, disease, and even death.
Mentally, POWs often face isolation, humiliation, and fear. They are separated from their comrades, family, and the comfort of home. Also, they are often subjected to propaganda and psychological manipulation.
Upon returning home, prisoners of war also have to face the challenges of reintegrating into civilian life. Such as finding employment and re-establishing relationships due to their experiences in captivity.
A well known former POW
One well known former POW is the late Senator John McCain, a US Navy pilot during the Vietnam war, he was shot down, captured, and experienced years of torture. His memory and the memory of the many others who returned home from POW camps are why we commemorate National Former POW Recognition Day.
Another inspirational POW story is that of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was a 1936 Olympic Medalist before enlisting during World War II and becoming a pilot for the U.S Army Air Force. In May of 1943, his plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean where Zamperini survived for 47 days on a raft before being captured by the Japanese. Across several camps over two years, he was physically and mentally tortured and severely malnourished from the lack of food. He was declared dead by the U.S Military but later liberated when the war ended in 1945. Louis returned home and overcame challenges with mental health and alcoholism for years before writing two memoirs and becoming a profound inspirational speaker.
In 1966 during the Vietnam war, Navy pilot Dieter Dengler was shot down and crashed in the jungles of Laos before being captured by Laotian Guerilla fighters who then turned him over to Vietnam troops. For months he was tortured and starved with six other POWs while also being exposed to lethal parasites and diseases like Malaria. Dieter was determined to escape though, working with his other prisoners turned allies, Dieter waited for their opportunity to escape, grabbing two Chinese rifles and a U.S. M-1 carbine to shoot at guards who were trying to keep them from escaping.
One of his comrades, Gene Debruin, decided to stay back at camp with a sick Chinese operator who was a part of his crew. While on the run, aiming for rescue, they were also chased down by local villagers who killed another one of his comrades, Duane Martin. He managed to escape being hunted by the villagers and collapsed in the river from exhaustion. Dieter woke from the sound of an engine, a plane up above saw him in the river, sent a hoist down, and saved Dieter Dengler. Making him a free man once more.
Jimmy James, a British Flier in World War II spent 5 years in German Captivity extremely ambitious and determined to escape. First, he was held in Stalag Luft I but after 7 unsuccessful attempts to tunnel his way out, he was then transferred to Stalag Luft III. There, he had 11 more attempts, succeeding twice only to be recaptured. On March 24th 1944, 76 allied prisoners tunneled their way out. Most of them were recaptured, including James, but 3 did make it to freedom. James was then moved to two more prison camps with even more attempts to tunnel out before being liberated by American Troops in May of 1945. His ambition and many tunnel excavations would later inspire the film, The Great Escape.
Even with many inspirational escape stories from former prisoners of war, there are still thousands unaccounted for that also deserve honor. According to the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 81,500 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars/other conflicts.
POW Medal Presentation - Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III presented the Prisoner of War Medal to 1st Lt. Paul Gambaiana during a ceremony April 30, 2014, at the Pentagon.
Former prisoners of war often use mental resilience to cope with surviving in captivity. Mental resilience is the ability to cope with difficult circumstances, manage emotions, and maintain a positive outlook on life; often using a variety of techniques to build emotional stability such as practicing mindfulness, relaxation, and positive thinking.
When former POWs return home, they often face a variety of challenges that are physical, such as disabilities, chronic pain, and scars. Others are psychological, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. This can have a profound and lifelong effect on their health.
Many others also struggle to reintegrate into their home and society. This may include difficulty finding employment, forming relationships, and adapting to a new way of life. Former POWs may struggle with guilt and shame over their experiences in captivity, feeling guilty for not being able to protect their comrades or experience survivor’s guilt, where they feel bad for being able to move on and live their lives while others have passed on. POWs are often reluctant to talk about their experiences, as it can be difficult to face the memories of captivity, sometimes leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The importance of remembering our POWs cannot be overstated.
These brave individuals have endured extreme physical and psychological hardship during captivity and faced even further challenges after returning home.They have made incredible sacrifices in order to protect our freedoms and ensure our safety.
Honoring our POWs is an important way to ensure their sacrifices are not forgotten. Challenge coins are a symbol of pride and respect, and can be used to commemorate special moments and events in the lives of service members. You can create custom challenge coin designs to commemorate fallen soldiers, friends, units and missions you have worked on, or even prisoner of war coins. They serve as a tangible reminder of the sacrifice and courage of those fighting for our country, including those still unaccounted for.