POW/MIA Tragic Realities and a Love Story

On a warm December morning, we met Carole and Jim Hickerson at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. We were invited to attend an Arrival Ceremony for the recovered remains of six World War II and Vietnam War military personnel. Their transfer cases would then delivered to the forensics lab for identification, family notification and burial. Carole and Jim retired to the island of Oahu and attend a half dozen of these solemn ceremonies each year.

Carole and Jim Hickerson at arrival ceremony Hickam AFB

Carole and Jim Hickerson at arrival ceremony for U.S. military personnel at Hickam AFB December 9, 2011

It is important to this pair to pay their respects to those who gave all for their country and they attend as many Arrival Ceremonies as their schedule permits. The remains of Carole Hickerson’s husband, a Marine pilot, came through Hickam in this manner in 2002. His body was escorted home, in full dress uniform and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

During the years her husband was missing in action, Carole was frustrated by the lack of transparency from the U.S. government. There was no communication on the progress in finding and returning those service personnel who were unaccounted for during the war. While her husband was missing, she designed the image which later became the well known graphic on the black POW/MIA flag. She is quick to note she is not responsible for creating the flag itself.

Around 1970, my Godmother, Joyce Mary Moses, gave me a silver POW/MIA bracket inscribed with a soldier’s name and the date he went missing in action.

“Lt. Roger B. Innes, MIA 12-27-67″

Carole Hickerson was instrumental in developing the POW/MIA bracelet program to build awareness and public support for the return of our soldiers. I wore this bracelet for many years until the metal fatigued. In March of this year, I visited the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall in Washington D.C and found the name Lt. Roger B. Innes etched on one of the panels.

Roger B. Innes , a solder killed in action, on Vietnam Memorial Wall Washington DC

The name, Roger B. Innes, a solder killed in action during the Vietnam War, on Vietnam Memorial Wall Washington DC

Carole and her current husband Jim met through National League of Families of America’s Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia.

Jim Hickerson, a U.S. Navy Captain, was a prisoner of war in Hanoi after his aircraft was shot down over Vietnam. He spent five years in the notorious Hanoi Hilton. Carole stated while Jim was a prisoner of war, his then wife “decided not to wait for him.”

Now retired from the Navy, Jim is active with the privately funded Pacific Aviation Museum on Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island. He enjoys military history and all the back stories that make the past come to life. Jim shared this story with us:

“A girl was buried on the U.S.S. Utah which sank on December 7, 1941 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the twin daughters of the ship’s captain had died and the captain brought her remains aboard prior to the attack. The ship was prepared to sail the next day and the grieving father planned to bury his daughter at sea. The ship never sailed out of port. It was one of the many ships bombed and sunk just after dawn that day. The captain and his daughter’s body were forever entombed in the wreckage. Jim says this back story came out when the surviving twin visited Ford Island later in her life.”

Carole and Jim are celebrating 37 years of marriage. Congratulations to you both!

Six War Veterans’ Remains Arrive at Hickam AFB for Identification

The remains of six soldiers arrived at Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu, Hawaii today. We attended the ceremony hosted by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command held in Hanger 35 on base. The transfer cases will move to the JPAC Central Identification Lab where forensic analysis will attempt to identify these individuals, then notify their next of kin.

The short program opened with a powerful voice singing our national anthem. A joint service honor guard and senior officers from each military branch were there this morning to pay their respects. Several hundred people gathered as the six flag draped, transfer cases surrounded by an honor guard were carried off the C-17 transport aircraft onto two awaiting buses.

The first five transfer cases carried World War II remains recovered from the United Kingdom, Canada, Vanuatu, Germany and Papua New Guinea. The sixth case was a Vietnam loss recovered in Laos.

Attending the service were veterans including a group of Purple Heart award recipients, active duty military personnel and media. The solemn service ended with a lone bugler playing taps.

Soldiers Remains return to Hickam AFB Honolulu

The remains of six soldiers return to Hickam AFB Honolulu for identification

Representatives from each service pay their respects as the remains of unknown soldiers are returned

Representatives from each service pay their respects as the remains of unknown soldiers are returned

We also spoke with a couple of Hawaii residents who attend as many of these events as possible. The remains of Carole Hickerson’s husband came through Hickam in this manner in 2002. His body was escorted home, in full dress uniform and buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She was visibly moved by the proceedings this morning.

She met her current husband, Jim Hickerson through National League of Families of America’s Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia. Jim was a prisoner of war in Hanoi after his aircraft was shot down over Vietnam. He spent five years in the notorious Hanoi Hilton. He and Carole attend about six of these arrival ceremonies each year.

Since 1970, the U.S. government has identified remains of 1,770 American military personnel and reunited them with their families.

Aloha Pearl Harbor Survivor Dave Davenport

I met Ernest “Dave” Davenport, retired with 21 years in the Navy, on a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii. Dave is a survivor of the World War 2 attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. Although it has been 69 years since that fateful morning, the memory of the Pearl Harbor bombing is still sharp. The first attack surprised everyone. Dave and his fellow seamen quickly ran behind a barrier and started shooting. Dave said they were able to take out one of the planes.

“It is important to remember Pearl Harbor and to always be alert. We were not alert on December 7, 1941. We were not alert on 9/11.” Dave told me. As a reminder, he gave me a “Remember Pearl Harbor” lapel pin as part of his personal mission to keep America alert.

After his Navy career, Dave returned to Virginia Beach where he taught high school for 17 years. Dave and his wife of 66 years have three sons and two daughters-in-law accompanying them to the reunion to meet with other members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. They will be at the opening of the new Pearl Harbor Visitors Center this week.

The new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center in Honolulu, Hawaii at Ford Island is one of several collocated historically significant military sites. The brilliant white Pearl Harbor Memorial rests peacefully in Pearl Harbor above the battle ship U.S.S. Arizona lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor with many of her crew still entombed. This is where world War ll began for the United States. Standing guard across her stern is the U.S.S. Missouri where the Japanese signed the peace treaty on the deck of the ship. The U.S.S. Oklahoma, Bowfin submarine and Pacific Aviation Museum are also located here.

This is the last Hawaiian reunion planned for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Previously, the group met every 5 years at Pearl Harbor. Many survivors are unable to travel due to illness or advanced age. The number of survivors dwindles every year. Born in 1921, Dave was 20 years old on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack. He is a spry 89 years old today with a twinkle in his eye. Many of the others on duty that morning were older.

The Pearl Harbor Survivor Association is chartered by Congress. When the members are gone, the organization will cease to exist. For Dave and other survivors, it is import for us to learn the lessons from the past and do our part to keep our future secure.

In closing, I asked Dave about his nickname. He said, “In the service, everyone is in a hurry and always rushing. If you had a long name, it got shortened. My name is Ernest but no one was going to use such a long name. So they shortened my last name Davenport to “Dave” and I have been Dave to everyone ever since.”

Learn more about the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in my interview with Mal Middlesworth, former president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and Herbert Weatherwax, Pearl Harbor Survivor and volunteer at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center who tells us why he shares his story with future generations.

Aloha Dave. Welcome back to Hawaii.

I am very grateful to have met several Pearl Harbor survivors on my travels to Hawaii. Many of these soldiers toured the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center last year for the final Pearl Harbor Survivors reunion. As they reach their 90’s it is harder for them to travel, especially long distances. Here are the stories of other Pearl Harbor survivors.

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