POW-MIA recognition ceremony held at Fort Hamilton

Recognizing those who have made great sacrifices in their service to this country, the United States Army Garrison Fort Hamilton paid special homage to the country’s Prisoners of War (POW) and those who are Missing in Action (MIA) with a recognition day ceremony on Friday, September 16.

The emotional day saw speeches from both SSG Christopher Patchen, the base’s noncommissioned officer in charge; Donald Bradshaw, deputy garrison commander at Fort Hamilton; and special guest speaker Dr. Cole Lao, who provided attendees with a detailed account of his experience as a POW.

“The POW-MIA recognition day, is an annual event to honor prisoners of war, our missing and their families,” said Patchen. “This event highlights our commitment to account for those who are still missing. We also pledge that we will work to ensure future generations will understand and appreciate the courage and contributions these selfless Americans have made.”

Lao, now 94 years old and an animated storyteller, provided attendees with an emotional account of his capture in 1942 – when for one full year, after being captured by Japanese soldiers while on guard duty in the Philippines, he was confined to an internment camp.

“I was 19 when I was [selected] from college to serve in the Army,” Lao, who went on to practice medicine after being discharged from the Army, told the crowd. “I didn’t know what war was. But then, when I was captured, I said to myself, ‘now this is it.’

“I endured one year in a prison camp,” he continued, “fed only twice a day: breakfast at 9 a.m. and supper at 5 o’clock. When I escaped, it was because Mother Nature was very kind. It was raining cats and dogs, with thunder and lightning, and when I saw the guards asleep in their bunks, I said to myself, ‘now this is it.’ So I escaped, digging a hole beneath the barbed wire and electric fence and [was able] to get outside.”

The ceremony, first held in July of 1979, features a symbolic “Missing Man Table” complete with different hats – signifying those missing from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

“The importance of the POW-MIA flag lies in its continued visibility,” Patchen said, “a constant reminder of the plight of American prisoners of war and those missing in action.”

BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photos by Anna Spivak

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