Dover AFB honors POW/MIAs during ceremony

  • Published
  • By Mauricio Campino

The 436th Airlift Wing, 512th Airlift Wing, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System came together during a retreat ceremony to commemorate National POW/MIA Recognition Day at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Sept. 17, 2021.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day of remembrance for the sacrifices and service of prisoners of war, as well as of those who are still missing in action. The day
was established in 1998 by an act of Congress and is commemorated on the third Friday of September.

“It is an honor to stand alongside you today as we pause to pay tribute to our former prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action,” said Col. Chip Hollinger, AFMAO commander.

The ceremony featured Air Force veteran and former POW Ralph Galati as the guest speaker. Galati was shot down over North Vietnam on Feb. 16, 1972, while serving as a forward air controller. He and his pilot were immediately captured and taken to Hanoi where Galati spent 14 months as a POW.

“You really don’t appreciate [freedom] until you’ve lost it all,” he said. “When you’re begging for water, begging for food, begging for a bed and a toilet, you know you’ve lost everything. You have to revert back to what is most important to you. Galati said his love for his country, and the sacrifices of those who came before him kept him and his comrades motivated during captivity."

“We used to sing God Bless America and the Star Spangled Banner,” he continued. “We would be punished and beaten when we did that. But we did it anyway. Because those are the things that are important. We knew that 58,000 had died and we thought, ‘How lame would we be to not fight to the best of our ability?’ That’s what kept us  going."

Also among the participants of the ceremony were members of the Dover AFB Honor Guard who fired a volley salute, played taps on the bugle and folded the American flag. Members of AFMAO and the AFMES DNA Operations Department read the names of 138 service members who died during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War who were repatriated this year. 

“I am a lucky guy,” said Galati. “I am one of 591 that returned from Hanoi in 1973. There are still over 1,500 missing in action from Vietnam. Your country will not rest until
everyone is accounted for. Thank you for remembering the POW/MIA cause and never abandoning us, and thank you for never forgetting.”

This year’s ceremony was preceded by a 12-hour memorial run. Airmen and civilians from across Dover AFB signed up for 30 minute time slots to run and pay tribute to
POWs and those who are still MIA. During the memorial run, names of service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice throughout all of America’s armed conflicts
were read over a public address system for runners to hear.