Military News

Monday, September 22, 2014

POW/MIA weather Airmen never forgotten

by Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
55th Wing Public Affairs

9/19/2014 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb.  -- The Air Force Weather Agency hosted a Prisoner of War/ Missing in Action ceremony Sept. 19 as part of POW/MIA recognition day.

This day, observed on the third Friday in September every year, was authorized by Congress in 1971 and honors POW/MIAs and their families. During the AFWA event, ten weather Airmen from WWII and the Korean War were acknowledged, two of which had family members present.

"The two families were here to celebrate Master Sgt. Thomas S. Smith and Capt. Dewey Keithly Jr. and both were presented the Prisoner of War Medal," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Hendricks, 2nd System Operations Squadron systems flight chief.

The families also received a flag and were given an opportunity to speak about their loved ones.

Keithly, a weather observer and forecaster, was a Prisoner of War for several years during WWII and endured the Bataan Death March along with several prison camps. He was released at the end of the war and reenlisted. He then went on to serve in the Korean War where his B-50 weather reconnaissance aircraft crashed and he lost his life.

"My dad reenlisted after the war, but prior to then when he was released from the POW camp in Japan he weighed about 95 pounds," said Dewey Keithly III, son of Keithly. "He was sent to Ft. Carson, Colorado, where my mother was an Army Air Corps nurse. She happened to read his medical chart and realized their birthdays were on the same day. She was a little bit of a flirt, so she went up to him and that is how they met."

Keithly III said his dad passed away when he was six, but he still remembers some things about him.

"He loved to play the violin," Keithly said. "He loved to entertain. My sisters and I would sneak downstairs and listen to the conversations that were going on...He also taught me how to ride a bike. But the thing I remember most, is just how much we enjoyed the military family."

Smith, also a weather observer and forecaster, was forced to parachute from a B-17 bomber in 1947, minutes before it exploded. He and his entire crew were captured immediately. Thankfully, all were returned home safely after the war ended. Smith reenlisted and went on to serve for 20 years.

"He had been listed as missing in action and killed in action," said Patricia Law, daughter of Smith. "His mother had received news within weeks of each other that both of her sons had been killed, but she didn't believe it. She was right and they both came home."

She said her dad told here during his six-week captivity he lost 55 pounds because there was no food or supplies and even the guards began to abandon their posts. He was one among 76,000 prisoners.

"I would like everyone to reflect on their unique stories of these individuals, fathers, brothers, sons and Americans who sacrificed and kept faith in their God, family and their follow captives and brothers in arms," said Col. William J. Carle, AFWA commander. "They did this while enduring great hardships, torture both physically and mentally, solitary confinement, disease and starvation, and for some of them a lonely death away from their home, their country and their families. These Airmen are truly heroes and an inspiration to us all."

The event also featured a special POW/MIA table ceremony.

"There are still 83,189 personnel listed by the Department of Defense as missing and unaccounted for since WWII, 73, 536 of them from WWII, 7880 from the Korean War, 126 from the Cold War, 1,641 from the Vietnam War and six from Iraq and other conflicts," Carle said. "Today, not only do we honor and pay tribute to these ten Airmen, but let us keep trust and faith with those servicemen and women as well as their families, who are still unaccounted for."

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