Never forgotten: Vancouver event honors POWs/MIAs

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Did you know?

• Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been a prisoner of war for more than three years. The Hailey, Idaho, soldier was captured in June 2009 and is believed held by an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, probably somewhere in Pakistan, according to the Associated Press.

Dale Bowlin was captured by German soldiers in the late stages of World War II. Then he was wounded by an artillery shell -- probably fired by his own unit.

And then Bowlin lost a leg while he was a prisoner of war.

Still, the Vancouver veteran said, his experience pales when compared with what other POWs -- and their families -- went through.

"I feel inadequate," Bowlin during Friday's observance of POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The annual observance honors more than 140,000 American service personnel who were captured and held as POWs in the past 100 years; more than 17,000 of them died in captivity.

About 82,000 service members are listed as missing in action (MIA) since the start of World War II.

Four former POWs who served during World War II were at Friday's event on the Vancouver Veterans Affairs campus, including Bowlin.

He was a forward observer for an artillery unit and was captured on Feb. 21, 1945, in France.

Later, while German guards escorted Bowlin and four other Americans to the rear of the German line, he was wounded by American artillery fire.

"I was missing in action for two months," he said. "My family and my high school sweetheart didn't know if I was dead or alive."

After two months in a German hospital, Bowlin was able to contact his family; the war in Europe ended in May 1945.

Bowlin contrasted his time in enemy custody with those who were captured at the start of the war -- including those who endured the Bataan Death March.

And unlike the Germans who helped keep him alive, many enemy captors treated their Allied prisoners brutally, Bowlin said.

Those POWs, Bowlin said, include his friend Gene Liggett -- another Vancouver veteran who was at Friday's event.

Royce Pollard, former commander of Vancouver Barracks and former mayor of Vancouver, noted America's determination to account for our war casualties.

"Our goal is to not leave people on the battlefield," Pollard said.

Even though some people might feel like that was such a long time ago, Pollard said, "We will never forget them."

It's a principle that was put into practice as recently as April 10. That's when Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard L. Harris was buried at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a POW/MIA Recognition Day proclamation.

Sgt. Harris died while in North Korean custody in 1951.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.