09/15/04 — Former POWs gather for ceremony to remember missing and imprisoned

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Former POWs gather for ceremony to remember missing and imprisoned

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on September 15, 2004 2:01 PM

Former prisoners of war gathered Tuesday in the front pews of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base chapel. A sense of tranquility and respect came over them as the Code of Conduct of the U.S. Armed Forces was read aloud.

"If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades," Article 4 states.

Thomas F. Royals

Retired Col. Thomas F. Royals

These words served as the foundation for retired Col. Thomas F. Royals, who was the guest speaker during the base's annual POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony. He served with the U.S. Army's 417th Infantry Regiment during World War II. While conducting a raid on the railroad yards in Luxembourg in February 1945, he was wounded three times and captured by German SS troops.

"This isn't happening to me," Royals thought when he was captured.

He recalled fighting the German army and being hit by a knife on the nose and by a bayonet on his left leg. He and several others were interrogated. Following the code of conduct, Royals only gave the Germans his name, rank and serial number.

The soldiers were placed in a prison, where they stayed for a few days before being taken to another village north of Munich. He was released in May 1945 and returned to the United States.

Royals later served in the Air Force in various assignments. He was instrumental in establishing the Air Force Evasion and Escape Committee and helped aid in the design and execution of Operation Homecoming, the return of Vietnam POWs.

Prior to his comments, Col. Mike Holmes, 4th Fighter Wing commander, recalled an event that symbolized the promise of remembering POWs and MIAs.

While he was stationed at the Pentagon, he visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guard. He said the ceremony showed that the military personnel missing, killed and those who were prisoners will not be forgotten.

"It is our duty to continue this tradition of remembrance," he said.

Al King, mayor of Goldsboro, said that Sept. 11 forever changed the U.S. and the world. Many people took their freedoms for granted before the attacks, but now, they realize that freedom is not free and people are more aware of POWs, MIAs and those killed in action, he said.

The ceremony concluded with the recognition of the local POW's present, the playing of taps and the national anthem, and a ceremony of retreat where the base's Honor Guard folded the American flag.

"Thank you for your honor and courage," Col. Holmes told the former POWs.