Soldiers and members of the Fort Huachuca community held two events this year in observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day Friday. Fort Huachuca U.S. Army Garrison and partner organizations started the day with the installation’s annual walkathon which began and ended at Warrior/Sentinel Field. A first-time event, “Remembrances,” took place from 10 a.m. to noon at Murr Community Center.
The walkathon this year was open to entire Fort Huachuca community. Some Families even walked their dogs. Retired Lt. Col. Jim Chambers found walking alongside Civilians, Families and pets to be refreshing. He said the walkathon came full-circle with the entire community involved.
After the walk, Brig. Gen. Peter Gallagher, acting commanding general, Network Enterprise Technology Command, praised the work of the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, or DPMO. Established in 1993, the office oversees and manages all prisoners of war and missing in action affairs within the Department of Defense.
“These caring professionals are responsible for collecting and consolidating information on thousands of military personnel, in addition to working with the Families of these service members and other government agencies to recover their remains and if necessary, return them home where they belong,” Gallagher said. “With the motto of ‘keeping the promise,’ DPMO is tasked to lead the national effort to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our missing DoD personnel and to inform their Families and the public.”
Gallagher also highlighted one Soldier in particular, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan.
“[Bergdahl’s] capture further emphasizes how virtually and vitally important it is to understand while we work to resolve the POW/MIA issues from Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts, until everyone is accounted for, there were a dozen POW/MIA cases in Iraq, 47 Americans were in a POW/MIA status at one point or another during the Persian Gulf War,” Gallagher stated.
Bergdahl’s story wasn’t the only one shared during National POW/MIA Recognition Day. At Murr Community Center, the Remembrances event was set up the in the main conference room and featured posters of POW and MIA personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the corner of the room, a small table was on display. The table is set for one — single place setting and chair.
According to Julius Gonzales, operations officer, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, and Remembrances coordinator, the table symbolizes the wait for a POW/MIA service member.
For visitors, the most engaging part of Remembrances was the guest of honor, former prisoner of war retired Capt. Richard Cooksley. A resident of Bisbee, Ariz., Cooksley is a World War II veteran who was a prisoner of war from 1942 to 1945 and is a Bataan Death March survivor.
He enlisted July 20, 1941 and was assigned to the Headquarters Squadron, 20th Air Base Crew (Army Air Corps) and was taken prisoner on April 9, 1942 at Bataan, Philippines. During his imprisonment he suffered from a variety of tropical diseases and malnutrition. He was finally liberated Sept. 12, 1945 at Koska, Japan and was evacuated to the U.S. on Oct. 20, 1945. In 1946, he reenlisted and served until his retirement in 1960 at the rank of captain.
Cooksley spent time talking one-on-one to Remembrances visitors retelling the story of how he was transported as a POW from the Philippines to Japan.
“In October of 1944, [the Japanese] decided to take [POWs] to Japan. There were 900 Soldiers on each ship, and our Navy sank 12 out of 15 ships,” Cooksley said.
Soldiers like Sgt. Mario Moore, Company B, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, took interest in Cooksley’s military career and deployment to the South Pacific.
“It’s moving to be able to meet somebody who was actually there living through the Bataan Death March.” Moore said, explaining how he participated in the 2006 Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, N.M.
For Moore, the one-on-one conversation was emotional. It was also emotional for Capt. Cameron Wright, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion.
“It’s [Cooksley’s] legacy and purpose that helps people like me move on,” Wright said.
This was the first year for the Remembrance event. Gonzales hopes it will continue next year in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day.