Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany Commanding Officer Col. Terry Williams, right, speaks with retired Army Lt. Col. Crawford Hicks at the Prisoner or War/Missing in Action breakfast at the base Friday morning. Hicks, a former POW, was the guest of honor at the event.
MCLB-ALBANY — On an annual basis, time is taken to reflect on what United States military personnel and their families have had to endure through prisoner of war sentences as well as for the troops that have yet to be heard from.
On Friday, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany hosted the 25th annual Prisoner of War/Missing in Action breakfast.
The event recognized all service members, alive or deceased, who are ex-POWs or still unaccounted for.
Following recognition of the ex-POWs in attendance, and their family members, the guest of honor — also an ex-POW — took the stage.
Retired Lt. Col. Crawford Hicks, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, knew he had to do something after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He enlisted at the age of 21, eventually earning his wings.
He actually began his flying career in Albany.
“I had never been on an airplane before I came here,” Hicks said.
He was on his 10th mission when he was captured in Germany in May of 1944.
“We were on our way home when German fighters came into our formation and hit my right wing,” Hicks recalled. “It started a fire, which I tried to put out. I bailed out.
“I didn’t have a decision to make. It was made for me. I hit the ground and was captured immediately.”
He was captured near the border of Belgium in Neuenburg, Germany, and spent 11 months as a POW before being liberated by Gen. George S. Patten’s Army command on April 29, 1945.
He still remembers clearly an interaction with a what he described as a “mean-looking” German guard after initially getting off the train.
“He stood on the platform, looked at us and said: ‘Jesus Christ, where in the hell are you guys from?’
“He was the one who told us about D-Day. That was a tremendous lift for us because we knew were were being freed.”
This interaction took place roughly 48 hours after the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 in which 160,000 Allied had troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Germany on the beaches of Normandy.
According to www.army.mil/d-day, more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion, and the cost was high with more than 9,000 Allied soldiers killed or wounded.
While Hicks’ time as a POW was not pleasant, overall, he said the German guards treated him well.
“We were treated decently. The Germans guards were not at all bad,” he said. “They did their job, and rightfully so.
“I was still in jail, but I didn’t have it too bad.”
The German citizens he interacted with were good to him as well, based an experience he had during a walk he was out on in the dead of winter.
“We took a rest stop in a village, and there was this German lady that came out with a pitcher of hot water at 1-2 a.m. in the morning,” he said. “We were prisoners of war and she was a civilian, but she thought enough of us to do this.
“I have not forgotten this.”
The website for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office indicates that a total of 88,000 U.S. service members remain unaccounted for. About 78,000 of those are from World War II, 8,000 are from the Korean War, 120 are from the Cold War and 1,700-1,800 are from the Vietnam War.
“We need to help get the story out (on the importance of acknowledging POWs and MIAs),” Hicks said. “I do the best I can to get young people to go into the military. They can serve their country and get so much out of it.”
Also on Friday, MCLB-Albany hosted a 9/11 memorial service at Schmid Field on base to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that struck New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. It was not open to the general public, but those with installation access were invited to attend.