SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
Members of Team Seymour observed the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Remembrance Week, Sept. 12-15, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.
POW/MIA Remembrance Week pays respect to service members who were held captive or did not return home during past and present wars.
More than 50 Airmen kicked off the week with a 5K run that began in front of the 4th Fighter Wing headquarters building. Additionally, 120-miles were logged during a 24-hour run to keep the POW/MIA flag moving for an entire day, and concluded with a ceremony featuring guest speaker, retired Sgt. 1st Class Gaspar Gonzalez, a former Korean War POW and U.S. Army Green Beret.
“I’m just another person who’s served his country,” said Gonzalez. “Those people, you don’t know how many hours they’ve cried; anything can trigger their post-traumatic stress disorder. Every time that I hear our national anthem, tears come to my eyes, I don’t have to force the tears. Those poor guys that never made it back to see their families, those are the ones you have to have the most care for today. If you know anyone that their husband has been missing or anyone with PTSD, talk to them, make them feel wanted, loved.”
Gonzalez was captured Nov. 22, 1950 by the Republic of China and spent 22 days in captivity. Gonzalez and his fellow prisoners made their escape by attacking one of their guards. Running barefoot, Gonzalez fled and was taken in by a local Korean family. They hid him from the Chinese until they were able to deliver him to the U.S. Marines that were posted nearby.
Gonzalez was taken back to the U.S. and spent seven months in the hospital, being treated for frost bite, a gunshot wound and PTSD. After recovering, he re-enlisted and volunteered to return to Korea with a special unit that worked behind Chinese lines. After the Korean War, Gonzalez fought in Vietnam and traveled all over the world for various conflicts.
The ceremony ended with closing remarks from Col. Brian Armstrong, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander, and a missing-man flyover conducted by the 334th Fighter Squadron to honor those still missing and those who have fallen.
“Sgt. 1st Class Gonzalez’s story and the Code of Conduct reminds us all that in our commitment to serve we accept the challenges and inherent risk associated with defending our nation,” said Armstrong. “Today also reminds us that as service members we’re sworn to give everything when our country asks for it. Let us be reminded of the sacrifice it takes to be part of the world’s most powerful military and the price that is paid to be free. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Airmen of Team Seymour and our pledge to maintain a constant state of readiness to answer our nation’s call and to never falter in our resolution to ensure every Airman returns home.”