April 19, 2012

Former POWs share their stories with the Tucson community

David S. Ricker
Staff writer

Southern Arizona celebrated EX-POW Recognition Day April 9 by sharing the stories of former prisoners of war at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System (SAVAHCS) in Tucson.

The program was co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), SAVAHCS and the American EX-POW southern Arizona Chapter.

J.L. Pepe Mendoza, assistant public affairs officer for SAVAHCS, said the purpose of the program was to provide first hand information to the public and raise the awareness of the personal sacrifices and experiences these veterans experienced. “This event has been here at the Southern Arizona VA Health care system for 28 years,” he said. “Each year we recognize ex-POWs who have given so much to the nation.”

The group of former POWs gathered for the April 9 event was smaller than it had been in previous years. “As you can see, the numbers have dwindled with each year,” Mendoza said. “They bring their memorabilia, their memories and experiences. What makes it nice is that our employees have an opportunity to come and talk to them.”

Richard Cooksley, 91, survived the Bataan Death March, imprisonment in the Philippines and forced labor in northern Japan. When asked about his longevity he shared his secret to long life. “Drink good Jack Daniels and don’t take anything a doctor tells you,” he said, with a wink.

Cooksley made the journey to the April 9 event from his home in the border community of Bisbee, Ariz. “It reminded us of Europe and we had been in Europe for three years,” he said. Cooksley remained in the Army after the war and ended his career as a “Cold Warrior. “

View Cooksley’s full account of his time as a POW at www.DavisMonthanAFBNews.com

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cheyenne A. Powers)

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