Nearly 68 years after coming home from war, James Dixon was overcome with emotion Friday when Fort Gordon troops honored him and other prisoners of war with a ceremony that included a rifle salute,
wreath placement and taps memorial.
“I always knew I would make it out,” Dixon said as he tried to hold back tears after the presentation.
Dixon, 91, has poor hearing and problems with short-term memory. But the retired Army Air Force staff sergeant’s recall of his military service during World War II, including his time as a captive of the German army, remains vivid.
It was in 1945 that the Russians liberated Allied forces, including American prisoners of war, from a prison camp in Barth, Germany. Dixon remembers the deplorable conditions of captivity.
He had to share a 20-by-20-foot barrack with 18 men. When they were moved, German troops carted them around in boxcars.
“There was no heat except a little pot belly stove and some compressed coal,” Dixon said.
Each year, the third Friday in September is set aside to honor the commitment and sacrifice made by the nation’s POWs and those still missing in action. At Fort Gordon, more than 150 soldiers and civilians gathered to remind Americans that it is “our responsibility to stand behind those who serve our
nation,” said Col. Samuel Anderson, the post’s garrison commander.
“Today, we recommit our resolve to do everything possible to account for our sons, daughters and all of those who have not returned or been returned to American soil,” Anderson said.
He said the national observance is not just a day to honor former POWs and those missing in action.
“We are still at war,” he said, “and with war comes the probability that Americans may be captured by our nation’s enemy.”
During World War II, more than 400,000 service members died, and more than 73,000 others remain unaccounted for, according to the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office. Korean War POWs top 7,900, with more than 1,600 from Vietnam and 126 from the Cold War era.
Anderson said accounting for missing military personnel is a nonstop effort in which teams of experts work on as many as 1,000 cases each day.
“All of the Americans still missing or unaccounted for are part of us, part of our nation and bound by the same oath to the Constitution that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coastguardsmen of today swear
to protect and the same honor we all share,” Anderson said.
He personally thanked the Dixon family and all in attendance and said he hoped all service members missing in action are found and returned to the relatives.
The Dixon family appreciated the gesture.
“It’s a very emotional day,” said James Dixon’s daughter, Becky Dixon. “I am so proud to be his daughter and an American, and I think it is important that we come together and remember so we do not forget what we are fighting for and that freedom isn’t free.”
“If you ever served the nation as a prisoner of war, our entire nation is grateful,” the colonel said. “You stood the course, and if you are still waiting for word about a family member or friend whose status remains unknown, know that your nation remains grateful to you as well.”