Men and women like Lamar Rodgers deserve our admiration
Wednesday afternoon I went to see a hero.
The Southern Heritage Air Museum honored Lamar Rodgers, 99, a World War II Air Force veteran and former prisoner of war.
Like most veterans, Mr. Rodgers would never call himself a hero. And like other veterans I’ve interviewed over the years, he would tell you the true heroes are the men who didn’t make it back — the men buried in cemeteries in areas like Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima and other American cemeteries across the globe.
Memorial Day is about two weeks away and I’ll probably do a column on the holiday the Friday before.
But I want to write a little about some forgotten heroes — the men who for whatever reason became prisoners of war during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
If you want to talk about heroes, these are the men and women you talk about. They put up with hardships and challenges we could never dream about and probably would never survive.
One of my favorite stories is one I wrote in 2001 when I interviewed survivors of the Bataan Death March. I was working in Pascagoula at the time and the men, like other Death March survivors, were in town for the commissioning of the amphibious warship Bataan, which had been built at Ingalls Shipyard.
I remember sitting in the newspaper’s conference room with six men and listening to their stories of the march under the eye of brutal Japanese guards who kept them marching at the point of a bayonet.
Many of those men were later sent to China, where they worked in mines, or Japan, where they were forced to work in plants. Many died and those who survived were scarred by the experience.
I also had the opportunity to meet Sen. John McCain several years later. He and other POWs from the Vietnam War deserve hero status for their ordeal during their stay at the Hanoi Hilton.
Although it’s not mentioned often, many civilians were also prisoners of war. Americans who lived in the Philippines were placed in compounds just as soldiers, sailors and airmen, and many Americans trapped in Europe during World War II were also kept in fenced communities.
They may not have been subjected to the same treatment as the men in the military, but they were denied their freedom and forced to live under extreme conditions.
The list of POWs is endless, whether it’s Death March survivors, Marines and civilian construction workers on Wake Island, the Philippines or France, and all of them, civilian and military, deserve to be honored.
Mr. Rodgers deserved the celebration he received Wednesday, both for his service to his country and for surviving his ordeal as a prisoner of war. He was a brave man, although you may never hear him say it, and he was a hero.
Memorial Day was set aside to honor those serving their country who were killed in action or have since died.
This year, let’s also remember those who like Mr. Rodgers fought the enemy regardless if they hit the beach or survived the ordeal of being a prisoner of war.
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