SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
Airmen and Soldiers celebrated national POW/MIA Recognition Day Sept. 22 with a ceremony hosted by the Air Force Sergeants Association, Chapter 377.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day is held annually across the country. The POW/MIA flag has been flown on the third Friday of September every year since 1979, when the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking the day as a celebration of those who went missing or made the ultimate sacrifice.
Members of Shaw AFB recognized the event by participating in a 24-hour run and listening to guest speaker Kurt Northrup. Airmen also took part in a candlelight vigil and a “Keeping Our Promise” Balloon Release Ceremony Sept. 19 through 20.
Northrup is the son of the late Master Sgt. John Northrup, a prisoner of war during World War II. He was held at Luft-Stalag IV in Poland.
“Infection, dysentery and other ailments plagued the prisoners; some didn’t survive,” Northrup said. “Those who did survive will tell you their friends will not be forgotten.”
John was later placed on a nine-day train ride to Luft-Stalag I in Barth, Germany.
“My father spoke of that fateful day when Luft-Stalag I was liberated,” Northrup said.
A few months before the end of the war, the prisoners woke May 7, 1945, to find out all the German guards had left and the gates were wide open.
“The prisoners thought it was a trick,” Northrup added. “A senior American POW ventured out and got on the intercom and told [the other POWs], ‘Stay where you are. There may be land mines outside the gate.’”
The prisoners were eventually liberated and sent stateside, and Sergeant Northrup was discharged in 1945 before reenlisting.
Currently, more than 83,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.
Team Shaw members honored the sacrifices made by POW/MIAs by running for 24 hours, to symbolize the United States’ perseverance in searching for POW/MIA heroes.
“When you hear stories about Master Sergeant Northrup, I think we’re reminded that our POWs and MIAs put our Air Force core values first, before they were even Air Force core values,” said Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th Fighter Wing commander. “Many of our POWs, of course, served in extremely difficult circumstances, and they lived those core values on a daily basis … May we never forget.”
The POW/MIA vigil symbolized the American people will not give up and will always honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for America’s freedom.
“I appreciate the opportunity to share the life and words of my father,” Northrup said. “On this national POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony, I think it’s fitting to say: ‘You will not be forgotten.’”