SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- The guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) hosted a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Day ceremony at Naval Base San Diego, Sept. 18.
This year the Department of Defense recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. USS Stockdale and USS William P. Lawrence are named in honor of two POWs who served with exemplary courage and honor during their captivity in North Vietnam.
Retired Cmdr. Everett Alvarez, Jr., former POW and recipient of multiple awards including the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Purple Hearts delivered the principal address. Alvarez was the first U.S. pilot to be downed and detained during the Vietnam War and spent more than eight years in captivity; making him the second longest-held American POW, after U.S. Army Col. Floyd James Thompson.
"Today's ceremony has a personal meaning, because it gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to two good friends," said Alvarez.
USS Stockdale was commissioned April 18, 2009 and is named for Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale, a naval aviator, the highest ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war during Vietnam, and a former vice presidential candidate.
Commissioned June 4, 2011, USS William P. Lawrence is named after Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, a naval aviator, former Vietnam prisoner of war, and former commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet.
A little more than a year after Alvarez was shot down, Stockdale and soon Lawrence joined him in captivity.
"God must have had a plan when these two officers joined the group," said Alvarez.
By that time, the North Vietnamese were putting into place their policies on how they would treat the prisoners of war, increasingly bringing pressure on POWs to produce propaganda statements for the North Vietnamese government.
Stockdale and Lawrence helped define the ways in which the POWs could resist their captors.
"It enabled us to return home with the important elements of our personal character intact," said Alvarez. "We kept our self-respect, integrity, loyalty, patriotism and honor."
The first national observance held to honor America's POW/MIA took place July 18, 1979, at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., as a result of a congressional resolution. The yearly resolutions continued until 1995, when the president signed a proclamation designating the third Friday of September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
"There are ceremonies being held all over the country today," said Alvarez. "It is a demonstration of the gratitude and the respect that we as a nation have for those who served and sacrificed under the most difficult circumstances."
According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, more than 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the 1991 Gulf War. Hundreds of Defense Department men and women, both military and civilian, work in organizations around the world as part of department's personnel recovery and personnel accounting communities. They are all dedicated to the single mission of finding and bringing our missing personnel home.
"Our heroes were these fellows here," Alvarez said, indicating the former POWs in the audience. "Ordinary guys who made the prison guards torture them for submission one day, and then come back and make start all over again the next time."