Wreaths were lain at the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action monument at Fort Gordon on Friday morning as service members and veterans paid respect to those captured and lost during each American war.
The POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony is held in front of the monument each year on the third Friday in September to acknowledge the lives of those lost in battle and the fate of the 83,417 soldiers that remain missing in action today.
This year’s ceremony brought several former POWs and their families to the monument, located on the corner of Chamberlain Avenue and Killbourne Street, to accept the honor.
Army veteran Edward Williams, 87, a former sergeant, was among the many POWs who attended Friday’s ceremony. He was captured while serving in the Korean War. Williams said he was held for two months with 20 other U.S. military personnel at a North Korean camp.
“We in Ku-san Valley was giving South Korea support with artillery,” he said.
He witnessed many of their deaths.
“Some got killed and some got shot,” Williams said. “I think about it all the time.”
As the POW/MIA flag stood at half-staff behind the monument, many saluted while wreaths were placed to memorialize service members who were once captured, and the many others who have yet to be found.
Williams said the ceremony is not only a tribute but a way to reconnect with other POWs and heal.
“As long as I am here I’m going to come up here and sit down,” he said.
Robert W. Sanders, 94, an Air Force veteran, was given a special recognition as the longest serving and oldest POW from World War II to attend Friday’s event. Sanders was held for 302 days at a camp in Germany. Prior to his incarceration Sanders, who was 21 and the youngest of his group, served as navigator of a B-17.
He said the camp was “clean,” and “well managed”
“They were generally good nature in the camp,” he said. “It was mostly an American camp with about 2,500 others and very basic.”
After being liberated by Gen. George S. Patton, Sanders said he attended pilot school and eventually settled in Augusta with his wife who accompanied him Friday.
The couple, who have been together for more than 65 years, said the ceremony was “welcoming.”
“I thought it was great and very impressive,” Sanders’ wife, Skipper, said.