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POW/MIA flag honors local veterans

An honor guard from the Medford Police Department raised American, POW/MIA and state flags during a Friday ceremony to pay homage to local veterans who were prisoners of war, as well as those from across the nation who are still missing in action.

After receiving a request from veterans, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed to have three poles installed to accommodate the flags at the August D. Singler Memorial Plaza between Jackson County Circuit Court and the Jackson County Jail in Medford. The plaza previously had one flagpole that was barely tall enough to fly an American flag at half-mast.

“We would not have ceremonies like this and the freedom that we enjoy but for those men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform, kept us free and those who wear it today — and we owe you an incredible debt of gratitude,” U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said at the ceremony.

Walden said those who were captured faced perils that included torture, starvation and death.

He recounted a trip he made to Vietnam with a veteran who had been held at a prisoner-of-war camp nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton. The man was shackled to a concrete slab for 72 days and tortured repeatedly.

“It is hard for us who have not been through that to fully appreciate it. But what we can do is fully recognize that service, that sacrifice, that commitment,” Walden said.

He said another veteran secretly sewed an American flag that prisoners kept hidden, except when they would salute it each day. Their captors discovered the flag and beat the man nearly to death, then kept him in solitary confinement. But when he returned, he crafted another needle, found more thread and made another American flag.

“This is the spirit, this is the courage, this is the bravery that we are honoring today that has given us freedom that we enjoy every day,” Walden said.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, backed bills in the Oregon Legislature to have POW/MIA flags flown at government buildings.

Esquivel said Americans must not forget those who remain missing. He said the nation’s job is not done until their remains are found, identified and returned for proper burial.

At least 83,000 Americans remain missing, although the actual numbers are far higher because MIA statistics were not kept before World War II, said local Vietnam veteran Hugh Crawford, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1833.

Veterans who were kept as prisoners rarely talked about their experiences, said Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts.

She recalled her grandfather, who as a POW had little to eat except the raw turnips his captors would throw to the prisoners.

Special recognition was given at the ceremony to local residents Cor Longiotti and Frank Hernandez, who were both POWs during World War II. Another local World War II-era POW, Walter Haines, could not be present due to health concerns.

Longiotti and Hernandez faced multiple near-death experiences and starvation rations while serving in Europe during the war.

Haines, a pilot, was shot down and nearly beaten to death after he was captured by the Japanese in the Indonesian islands.

“We could never, ever thank you enough for your sacrifice and your service,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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