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Team Shaw honors WWII POW

Reverend Susan Johnson kisses her mother, Jacqueline Heckel, on the forehead following a Prisoner of War Medal presentation for her late husband, Col. Charles C. Heckel, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018.

Reverend Susan Johnson kisses her mother, Jacqueline Heckel, on the forehead following a Prisoner of War Medal presentation for her late husband, Col. Charles C. Heckel, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018. As a World War II Army Air Corps lieutenant, Heckel became a prisoner of war October 1944 in Germany and faced forced marches, starvation, violence and the threat of execution until he was liberated in April 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Airmen, Soldiers and the family members of late Col. Charles C. Heckel, a World War II prisoner of war, gather to recognize his sacrifices during a Prisoner of War Medal presentation ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018.

U.S. Airmen, Soldiers and the family members of late Col. Charles C. Heckel, a World War II prisoner of war, gather to recognize his sacrifices during a Prisoner of War Medal presentation ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018. More than 110 individuals attended to honor Heckel as his grandson, Philip Johnson, told his story and Heckel’s wife, Jacqueline Heckel, received a Prisoner of War Medal on his behalf. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force 20th Fighter Wing F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilots fly over a ceremony honoring late Col. Charles C. Heckel, a World War II prisoner of war, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018.

U.S. Air Force 20th Fighter Wing F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilots fly over a ceremony honoring late Col. Charles C. Heckel, a World War II prisoner of war, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018. The pilots navigated in a missing man formation as an aerial salute to Heckel’s time as a prisoner of war in Germany from October 1944 to April 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Philip Johnson speaks to Team Shaw members about the military service of his grandfather, late Col. Charles C. Heckel, former World War II prisoner of war, during a Prisoner of War Medal presentation ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018.

Philip Johnson speaks to Team Shaw members about the military service of his grandfather, late Col. Charles C. Heckel, former World War II prisoner of war, during a Prisoner of War Medal presentation ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018. Heckel entered active duty as an Army flying cadet in January 1943 and continued to serve in the Army Air Corps then the Air Force for more than 30 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th Fighter Wing commander, presents Jacqueline Heckel with a Prisoner of War Medal for the sacrifices her late husband, Col. Charles C. Heckel, made as a World War II prisoner of war at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th Fighter Wing commander, presents Jacqueline Heckel with a Prisoner of War Medal for the sacrifices her late husband, Col. Charles C. Heckel, made as a World War II prisoner of war at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018. During his time in the Army Air Corps, Heckel was captured as a POW by German forces and was forced to march across Germany before he was liberated by American 3rd Army forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Charles C. Heckel was reported missing in action following a flying mission over Germany, Oct. 13, 1944.

U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Charles C. Heckel was reported missing in action following a flying mission over Germany, Oct. 13, 1944. Heckel was detained as a World War II prisoner of war for more than six months before being liberated by Soldiers assigned to U.S. 3rd Army in April 1945. Heckel went on to serve for more than 30 years before retiring as a colonel. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Hoglund, 20th Fighter Wing (FW) command chief, left, and Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th FW commander, render honors after placing a wreath during a Prisoner of War Medal presentation ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Hoglund, 20th Fighter Wing (FW) command chief, left, and Col. Daniel Lasica, 20th FW commander, render honors after placing a wreath during a Prisoner of War Medal presentation ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Jan. 19, 2018. The ceremony honored late Col. Charles C. Heckel, a World War II prisoner of war, formerly assigned to units preceding 9th Air Force and the 20th FW at Shaw. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

Airmen and Soldiers gathered with the family of the late Col. Charles C. Heckel, World War II prisoner of war, to honor his sacrifices during a ceremony Jan. 19.

The event included a Missing Man Formation fly over, the reading of Heckel’s story, a Prisoner of War Medal presentation and a wreath-laying ceremony.

After entering active-duty service as an Army flying cadet in January 1943, Heckel attended training until he left the U.S. as a lieutenant to fight for Allied forces in the sky over Germany in August 1944.

Less than three months later, Heckel and fellow P-38 Lightning pilots engaged enemies when his aircraft collided with another, forcing him to eject. Soon after, Heckel was seized by the German army and transported to a prison camp.

“The once feared rumors of death camps had now been verified,” said Philip Johnson, Heckel’s grandson, as he read to ceremony attendees. “Food was scarce, the facade of politeness and decency between captors and captives had disintegrated. … He was prisoner number 8286. He joined 10,000 captured Allied air officers. He was 19 years old.”

In October 1944, Heckel battled starvation, exhaustion and the elements as he and other prisoners were forced to march across Germany or crowd into camps with the threat of violence and execution looming over their heads until Soldiers assigned to U.S. 3rd Army arrived to liberate them by running over the camp’s gate in April 1945.

“The ex-POWs swarmed over the tank, burying it in a sea of humanity -- 130,000 men now were hysterical with joy,” Johnson said. “Many cried as they saw the stars and stripes raised in the camp.”

Heckel, no longer POW 8286, returned to the U.S. in June 1946 and married his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline Bowman, less than one month later.

Despite the hardships Heckel faced as a POW, he continued to serve for more than 30 years.

“My husband, when he was a small boy, [thought] flying was it, and he was going to fly,” Jacqueline said. “It was no decision at all. … There was never, ever any decision at all. It was his first love.”

During his career, Heckel flew combat missions in Korea, reconnaissance missions in Vietnam, and worked in a variety of positions from crew chief to installation commander.

However, his assignments to Shaw AFB impacted him more than most.

“We were here three different assignments, and this is home,” said Jacqueline while discussing Shaw. “He was chief of maintenance over here, and he could tell you the number on every airplane on that line because those were his airplanes. ... We have just a lot of very fond memories here.”

Heckel’s connections to the base extended past his assignments.

“My grandfather had a long career that continually looped back through the 9th Air Force and the 20th [FW],” Johnson said. “His first aircraft, the P-38 he jumped out of, was from the 20th Fighter Group when they switched to P-51s in July [1944]. He returned to 9th AF, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing in the 1960s in Royal Air Force Wethersfield, and again to Shaw AFB where he flew and trained for Air Combat Command. … It seems appropriate that we could honor him at Shaw AFB.”

The connection also extended to his liberation in Germany by Soldiers assigned to 3rd Army, an organization that began operations at Shaw in 2011 and has been renamed U.S. Army Central.

With this strong link and love for Shaw, the family returned to the local area following Heckel’s retirement in 1975.

As generations of Airmen, Soldiers and families gathered to hear Heckel’s story and pay their respects, they also learned about a small part of Shaw’s heritage.