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Annual reunion honors sacrifice of POW, MIA service members

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- Members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron hosted the 44th annual Freedom Flyer Reunion and 20th annual POW/MIA (prisoner of war/missing in action) Symposium March 30-31, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

The event honored all POW and MIA service members from the Vietnam War and included a wreath-laying ceremony and a missing man formation flyover. Air Force Col. Joel Carey, the 12th Flying Training Wing commander, and retired Army Brig. Gen. Dr. John Rose, Vietnam War veteran, were featured as guest speakers during the wreath-laying event at the foot of JB San Antonio-Randolph’s Missing Man Formation Monument.

“Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to join us for the celebration in this remembrance of many of those who have come to serve before and sacrificed much,” Carey said.

In the years following the Vietnam War the 560th FTS hosted the Pilot Requalification Program for POWs returning to flight status.

Their first flight with the 560th FTS was designed to duplicate what each returning pilot’s last flight in South East Asia would have been. Traditionally each pilot completing his 100th mission or end of tour was greeted on the flightline by his comrades to celebrate his safe return.

Keeping with tradition, the 560th FTS provided each former POW with their long overdue “fini” flight.

Since the first flight on May 21, 1973, the 560th FTS has flown 198 former POWs.

“I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am to be here; to be a part of this ceremony and remembrance for fellow Vietnam veterans,” Rose said.

Rose recalled the challenges service members faced when returning from the Vietnam War in contrast to how service members are treated today.

“I remember coming home after 13 months in Vietnam and being met by an NCO who said, ‘Take off your uniform, you’re back in the United States, you are not welcomed here,’” Rose said. “It was a painful and tough time, it was a difficult time for our nation. We all know how difficult it was back then, and we can’t change that now, but I am so delighted and proud about the way we treat our service members of all branches today upon their return.”

Following the wreath-laying ceremony, guests had the opportunity to listen to former POWs share their experiences and lessons learned from captivity during the 20th annual POW/MIA Symposium in the JB San Antonio-Randolph Fleenor Auditorium.

“What I have learned from all of this is that, you Vietnam veterans did not quit your country, you did not walk away,” Rose said. “You helped build the nation that we have today; the strongest military the world has ever seen and a nation that is built on our values, beliefs and trust. For that you deserve great respect, honor and the sincerest thanks and appreciation.”