POW/MIAs remembered at ceremony on Ramstein

by Airman 1st Class Ciara M. Travis
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

To honor military prisoners of war and troops missing in action, the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing hosted a day of events Sept. 16 on Ramstein.

The day’s special guest, retired Col. Joseph E. Milligan, was held as a POW for nearly six years after his plane was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
The day began with a 5K memorial run at the 435th Construction and Training Squadron running trail, where runners were allowed to run alongside the former POW.

“You will not see me coming in last,” Milligan said, joking. “I’ve never lost a race.”
Before the race, Milligan spoke to Airmen about training and readiness.

He and several other people were often crammed into a 3-by-6 cell where physical fitness was a challenge. Just as physical fitness plays a role in the careers of service members, training is also important.

“Although my old Air Force is different than today’s Air Force, one thing remains constant: training and readiness,” Milligan said. “The training that you have will stay with you forever. It stayed with me for those six years.”

While the training helped Milligan succeed in surviving his time as a POW, hope also helped him survive.

“The No. 1 question I am asked while talking about my time as a POW is ‘How could you endure hope while in captivity for so long? I don’t think I could do it,’” Milligan said. “The truth is, you can.”

He highlighted again on the importance of training and resiliency in today’s Air Force.

“The survival techniques I learned throughout my career were so important in keeping me strong,” Milligan said. “People often wonder how you cannot give up hope in those circumstances. The physical pain you go through and the mental anguish ― at the time it’s difficult to deal with, but you fight through.”

Milligan reminded the audience of the nation’s promise to its service members.

“The (United Service Organizations) logo reads ‘Until every one comes home,’” he said. “Your Airman’s Creed states you will never leave an Airman behind. We hear these words all of the time. One thing I’ve learned is the United States keeps their promise. They will fight for you, and that’s what gave us POWs hope.”

“The experiences of our POWs should serve as lessons to all of us,” said Master Sgt. Lawrence Kirkley, 1st Communication Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. “For me, it is perspective and willpower. The trials Dr. Milligan faced at the onset of his capture and over the course of his captivity, dwarf the ‘issues’ many of us face today. I ask each of you to simply remember.”

The day came to an end with a wreath laying ceremony at the River Rats Memorial.
“Ceremonies like this are so important,” Milligan said. “It’s not just about honoring the people who have fallen or are still in captivity. Our nation has made a promise to our people in uniform. That is what we are honoring.”