NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The Warsaw Uprising. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir. The Chinese Spring Offensive. These were some of the battles that veterans who attended the National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day here fought and lived to pass on their story.
The base held a ceremony at Freedom Park to remember and pay tribute to those who were repatriated after their capture and those still missing Sept. 20. Veterans from World War II, the Korea War, and the Vietnam War attended along with their family members.
“We just want to make sure that everyone understands how thankful we are for the sacrifices that they’ve given us, and their families have given us,” said Capt. Megan Kell, 561st Joint Tactics Squadron chief of information operations integration and event coordinator. “We can’t make up for it, but we can at least show our patriotism, our thankfulness and celebrate their bravery.”
George W. Kielak was 15 years old when he took part in the Warsaw Uprising as part of the Polish underground. The uprising was a major battle that lasted 63 days in an attempt to wrestle Warsaw back from the Nazis. After his unit ran out of medical supplies, food and ammunition, they surrendered to the Nazis Oct. 2, 1944.
“We were taking it a day at a time,” Kielak said. “I was always hungry, looking for food. But being young, I somehow survived.”
One of the memories that stands out from his time in the German prisoner camp was the living conditions in the barracks.
“I was wounded so I stayed in the camp,” Kielak said. “I remember bedbugs in our barracks where we slept. They were more of a menace than the Germans. This was the worst.”
Kielak, being the youngest, slept on top of a three level bunk bed.
“During the night, [the bedbugs] start dropping like rain on you,” he said.
He was liberated by the British April 17, 1945, and while living in the British zone of occupation, he joined the British army. In the 1950s, he immigrated to the United States and joined the U.S. Army, retiring at the rank of sergeant major.
Eugene Ramos, of Las Vegas Chapter 7-11 of the American Ex-Prisoners of War post commander, was a machine gunner in the 3rd Infantry Division during the Korean War. In 1950, at age 17, he found himself in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the defining battles of the war.
“I landed in Wonsan [now in North Korea] in the last part of October,” Ramos said. “The 3rd Infantry was on its way to relieve the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry because McArthur said those two divisions would be home for Christmas. The 3rd Infantry was going up there to relieve those two off the line, but we never made it. We got as far as the Chosin Reservoir, and the Chinese came across. I think they sent seven or eight divisions at us. We fought our way out of there.”
After evacuating by sea at Hungnam in North Korea, they landed in Busan, South Korea and marched for four months to Seoul. They settled down at what is known as the Kansas line on the 38th Parallel. By this time it was April 1951.
“The general said we’ve got to hold this at all cost,” Ramos said. “But I wasn’t worried too much because I was going on rest and relaxation the next morning … never made it.”
The Chinese attacked the next morning in what was later called the Chinese Spring Offensive. He was captured along with 50 others and held until August 1953 after the armistice was signed.
Ramos and the other prisoners marched to the Korean and Chinese border to a prisoner camp consisting of huts and were then separated into companies. He was made to collect wood in the surrounding hills and attend lectures aimed at brainwashing. Prisoners were killed if they were seen in groups talking, for fear of escape attempts.
From his imprisonment, Ramos learned that relying on others was what got them through their captivity.
“You have to have confidence in your friends,” Ramos said. “You have to depend on each other to take care of each other because by yourself you’ll never make it. You have to have someone else there with you to give you support because I’ve seen guys who just gave up. They just died.”
After two years, Ramos was traded for Chinese prisoners on what was called Freedom Bridge, but not everyone made it back.
“There are still some guys there,” he said.
The Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office website states more that 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War.