Air Force POW guest speaker at Recognition Day retreat

  • Published
  • By Airman Zachary Heal
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Retired Lt. Col. William R. Schwertfeger, an Airman who spent 407 days as a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War, headlined a retreat ceremony honoring POW/MIA Recognition Day, Sept. 15 at the base flagpole.

He spoke to a group of Airmen and other members of Team Vance, many of whom had just completed a silent 5-kilometer ruck march carrying the POW/MIA flag.

Schwertfeger, born in Enid, Oklahoma, commissioned into the Air Force through the ROTC program in 1967 after graduating from Oklahoma State University. Upon completion of his pilot training at Vance, he was assigned to the 433rd Tactical Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.

On Feb. 18, 1972, Schwertfeger and his weapons systems officer were circling an enemy site when their F-4 Phantom II aircraft was struck by a Russian missile, crippling the F-4.

When Schwertfeger landed the plane, he and his weapons systems officer were captured by North Vietnamese soldiers and taken to the “Hanoi Hilton” prison where he spent 407 days as a prisoner of war.

Celebrated on the third Friday in September, POW/MIA Recognition Day is a time for Americans to pause and honor the heroes who were captured by enemy forces, or are still missing in action.

“That’s what this day is about,” said Schwertfeger. “It’s about returning our friends and family to us.” 

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 82,465 American troops are listed as missing in action and hundreds of thousands more have been held prisoner since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

“It’s important for us to honor those who are POW and MIA,” said Master Sgt. John Aguon, co-organizer of the Vance POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony. “It reminds us of the sacrifices countless others have made for our freedoms.”