Fort Lee honors prisoners of war, those missing in action
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Sep 16, 2013, 12:51
BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Retired Brigadier General John W. Nicholson spoke at the event at Fort Lee on Thursday.
FORT LEE — A ballroom full of former and current military members along with their families and friends raised glasses high as a toast to those soldiers who have been reported missing in action as a result of serving their country on Thursday at the Lee Club in Fort Lee.
Thursday was National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and Fort Lee showed such recognition by hosting an honorary luncheon in support of the soldiers and civilians who have been killed in held captive in the name of the United States.
To date, more than 83,000 Americans are still reported unaccounted for by the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office.
“These are soldiers, sailors, marines, coastguardsmen and civilians who fought and served during engagements from World War II through Desert Storm,” said U.S. Army Garrison Commander Paul Brooks.”Our coming together today demonstrates that they have not been and they will not be forgotten.”
Guest speaker and retired Brigadier General John W. Nicholson emotionally recounted the personal anecdote of a Virginia POW by the name of Humbert “Rocky” Versace who was captured in Vietnam and executed after almost two years of imprisonment.
Nicholson attended West Point with Versace, and they ended up serving in the Vietnam War at the same time before Versace was taken prisoner by the Viet Cong in 1963.
Through the local Vietnamese villagers, Nicholson was told many stories of Versace’s captivity of which Versace never threw his country under the bus and persistently defended the freedoms and liberties granted by the United States despite the many violent measures his captors enacted upon him.
At one point, Versace refuted the Viet Congs’ claims that he was imperialist by emphasizing that the United States has freedom and the belief in Jesus Christ, unlike the communistic beliefs of his captors.
“BAM! He got hit in the mouth with the butt of an AK-47, knocked him to the ground. Rocky had a full set of beautiful white teeth. And this lady described him as he stood up and smiled through his bloody teeth, and said in Vietnamese as he looked up to the sky and he said, ‘Forgive them God for they know not what they do,’” Nicholson narrated as he paced the hardwood floor of the ballroom.
Despite multiple efforts to escape and survive his imprisonment, Versace was shot and killed approximately 23 months after being taken prisoner.
Nicholson emphasized the role of undying faith, patriotism and leadership personified by Captain Versace because he felt that everyone should understand the true meaning of always living and saying what you believe regardless of certain consequences.
“He not only was a hero and a role model for the military, but also as an American and as a Christian,” Nicholson said.
For the ceremony on Thursday, at the center of the ballroom was the missing man table, with six unoccupied plates and a single rose resting in a vase on the middle of the white tablecloth. Each of the six spaces served to represent a different branch or category of missing individual: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps., Coast Guard and Civilian. A uniformed representative for each spot ceremoniously walked in a line carrying a respective hat for that spot and placed it by a plate at the table.
BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Uniformed officers placed six hats around the missing man table to represent the MIA military officers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps., Coast Guard, Air Force and civilians.
Each part of the table had a specific purpose or symbolic representation including the round shape of the table served to signify an everlasting concern for the missing soldiers and the white tablecloth denoted a purity within those who sacrificed their lives. The rose at the center of the table stood for the life in each of the missing individuals and the continued faith of their loved ones.
Several former POWs along with their families were in attendance at the event as well as many prominent military figureheads, including David Weisman, former civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, Quartermaster General John O’Neil, and president of the Army Logistics University John Hall, among others.