Vandenberg remembers missing, prisoners of war in ceremony

Members of the Vandenberg Honor Guard place a wreath in memory of the military members still missing in action as a helicopter from the 76th Helicopter Squadron completed a flyover.

Members of the Vandenberg Honor Guard place a wreath in memory of the military members still missing in action as a helicopter from the 76th Helicopter Squadron completed a flyover.

Retired Lt. Col. Wrayn Stitch tells his story of being a prisoner of war in Germany during WWII.

Retired Lt. Col. Wrayn Stitch tells his story of being a prisoner of war in Germany during WWII.

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A remembrance ceremony was held Sept. 15 at the Prisoners of War/Missing In Action Memorial here in honor of national POW/MIA recognition day. 

The ceremony, sponsored by the Vandenberg First Sergeant's Association, aerospace chapter 1356, included two former POW guest speakers and a collective effort from other base organizations.
 
"135 volunteers from across the base posted in rotation for a 24 hour sentry; 4 Airmen, ranking from Lieutenant Colonel to Airman, posted at the Vandenberg POW/MIA memorial, rotating duties every 45 minutes, and reading aloud the names of the 92,000 POW/MIA still considered missing since World War I," said Master Sgt. Michael Keating, 2nd Range Operations Squadron flight chief for operations training. 

"The volunteers began reading at 2 p.m., Sept. 14 and only got through around 90,000 names in a 24 hour period," Sergeant Keating said.
 
The volunteers consisted of Airmen from the 381st Training Group, 30th Operations Group, Mission Support Squadron and 614th Space Intelligence Squadron.
 
In conjunction with the 24 hour sentry posting, the Vandenberg Honor Guard and the 76th Helicopter Squadron also contributed time and effort to pay their respects. 

The Vandenberg Honor Guard presented a wreath of yellow roses to honor those still missing in action as well as a 21 gun salute during the ceremony to honor those who have passed at the hand of the enemy. 

At the same time, the 76th HS here coordinated a "fly over" in honor of the nationally recognized day. 

Residents of the base and local community were in attendance, as well as four former POW's who came to honor their comrades and share stories about their individual experiences. 

Former POW and guest speaker, retired Lt. Col. Wray Stitch, recalled events during his capture by the Germans during WWII, focusing on certain memories of his time spent inside the walls of the German war camps. 

"Upon being captured I was incarcerated in the Mauthausen concentration camp, which was under the control of the German Gestapo," Colonel Stitch said. " Six of us were in a small cell and we were brought a large bowl of soup that was made out of greens, given only one spoon, and told that we would not get anymore until that bowl was empty. That was our indoctrination into being a POW." 

This initial orientation into being a POW would hold true for Colonel Stitch and his comrades, who were only given potatoes, imitation bread and butter, and barley to eat during their imprisonment. 

Colonel Stitch survived harsh living conditions and maltreatment from the German Gestapo until his release in late April, 1945 but, "had it easy," he said, compared to Mac McClean. 

A former Marine POW, Mr. McClean gave an impromptu speech revealing that he bore first hand witness to the famous Bataan Death March. 

"My unit was at Corregidor, a small rocky island in the Philippines about 48 kilometers west of Manila, and was overrun by the Japanese Army," he said. "While defending our position, we ran out of ammunition and food, and finally surrendered. Over 75,000 prisoners were taken at Corregidor and shortly there after taken on the infamous Bataan Death March. We were marched by the Japanese under the most terrible conditions with many of my comrades being outright shot, bayoneted and killed if they did not follow orders from the Japanese; often times for no reason at all. We were marched for five days without food or water." 

At the time of his release in October, 1945, Mr. McClean weighed in at 86 lbs and even today still suffers from the effects of the harsh treatment he and many others endured.
With members of the crowd moved to tears, some Airmen in attendance left with an over-whelming sense of pride. 

"I feel the uniform represents sacrifice, responsibility and a cost we as military members must be prepared to take," said Airman 1st Class Danniel Dejesus, 614th Space Intelligence Squadron. "Because I wear this uniform, it represents something bigger than myself. It's not about me anymore; it's about the country that I serve."