I had the honor of doing the invocation for the ceremony. This ceremony has in the past years been very personal and moving for me. Since coming into the Air Force, I've met a number of men who have been held prisoner of war. At Arlington, I did a number of memorial services for those whose remains had not yet been found, but whose families wanted to bring closure. I also did a number of service for repatriations, where those who lost their lives years ago have finally been brought home. Last year at the Air Force Memorial in DC, I met a woman a few years older than myself who had the experience of growing up not knowing the status of her father until much later in life.
Yesterday, as I prayed and stood tall during the ceremony, I was remembering one of the greatest men I know. I got to know him during my time at Andrews. He is Colonel (ret.) Norman McDaniel, USAF. He was shot down and held for six years in Vietnam for 2,399 days. He endured a meager diet, but beyond this torture, interrogation, and isolation. He came home on February 12, 1973 during Operation Homecoming. I also have gotten to know his wife, a tremendous woman of strength and courage herself. Colonel McDaniel would write five years into his captivity, "I am still a man though I am badly bent. I will hope and strive until my life is spent."
For his dedication and faithfulness to our nation he earned the Silver Star.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For the period 20 July 1966: This officer distinguished himself by gallantry and intrepidity in action in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force during the above period while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. Ignoring international agreements on treatment of prisoners of war, the enemy resorted to mental and physical cruelties to obtain information, confessions and propaganda materials. This American resisted their demands by calling upon his deepest inner strengths in a manner which reflected his devotion to duty and great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
As I reflected upon on 9/11, there is a huge price often paid for the liberty our citizens enjoy. We cannot afford to forget. I read somewhere a quote that has stuck in my mind, "real life is not sugar coated".
There are still wives and children, even comrades and friends -- still waiting to know what has happened to their loved one. Don't forget them.