5 former Vietnam POWs to attend as Montgomery County salutes Vietnam veterans on Saturday, Oct. 24

Everett Alvarez, Jr., Fred Cherry, Michael Cronin,
Hubert Walker and Larry Stark Will Be Honored in
Rare Assembling of Those Who Were Imprisoned in War

Everett Alvarez, Jr., Fred Cherry, Michael Cronin, Hubert Clifford Walker and Larry Stark, each of whom endured horrendous conditions as a prisonersof war during the Vietnam War, but who emerged with a determination to return with “our personal integrity, our reputation and with our honor,” all will be present on Saturday, Oct. 24, as Montgomery County honors the men and women who served the nation during the Vietnam War. The event will take place at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, starting at 10:30 a.m.

The gathering of the five former POWs, each now a resident of Montgomery County, will mark a rare public appearance by the five together.

The Vietnam War—which changed the lives of those who served and altered the political scene back home—ended for the United States in 1975. Bob Schieffer, who recently retired as host of CBS News’ Face the Nation, will be the host and guest speaker for Honor and Gratitude: Montgomery Salutes Vietnam Veterans. It will be the first significant event in the 40 years since the war ended to honor the County’s Vietnam veterans. It is estimated that between 130 and 140 Montgomery County residents lost their lives in the Vietnam War. There are more than 13,000 Vietnam veterans currently living in the County.

County Executive Ike Leggett (who is a Vietnam vet), Council President George Leventhal and the County Council will lead the special ceremonies at the Universities at Shady Grove at 9630 Gudelsky Drive in Rockville. The event will be recorded and broadcast on many of the public cable television channels that compose the County’s PEG (Public, Education, Government) organization, which is hosting the event. In addition, the PEG organization has been recording the stories of many of the veterans for a documentary that will be broadcast after the event.

Among the speakers will be U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin; U.S. Congressmen John Delaney, John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen; and Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith, a Navy veteran who served at the National Security Agency during the Vietnam War.

The program will include a look back at some of the significant events of the U.S. involvement of the conflict that dates to July 8, 1959, when two U.S. military advisers were killed in a raid at Bien Hoa. More than 800 people are expected for the Oct. 24 event, including those who were present in major actions of the 11-year U.S. involvement. Those events included attacks on the USS Maddox in August 1964 that led to Congress on Aug. 7, 1964, passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to take whatever actions he saw necessary to defend South Vietnam against Viet Cong forces.

Honor and Gratitude: Montgomery Salutes Vietnam Veterans event organizers are currently seeking to contact more of the veterans who will be honored on Oct 24. Those veterans, or family and friends of the veterans, seeking more information about the event should call 301-424-1730 / ext. 350. Additional details, including how to register to attend the free event, can be found on the event’s web site at: http://www.mocovietnamvets.org/

“It has been four decades since our Vietnam veterans returned home,” said County Executive Leggett. “We want to take this opportunity to acknowledge their courage and patriotism and say thank you for making the world a better place. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I know the sacrifices that were made by members of our military during times of war. This event is a perfect way for all of us to pay tribute to these brave and honorable men and women.”

Mr. Schieffer was a reporter for more than half a century and 2015 marked his 46th year at CBS News and his 24th anchoring Face the Nation. Prior to joining CBS in 1969, he was a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram where he was the first reporter from a Texas newspaper to report from Vietnam.

Mr. Schieffer has won virtually every award in broadcast journalism including eight Emmys, the overseas Press Club Award, the Paul White Award presented by the TV News Directors Association and the Edward R. Murrow Award given by Murrow’s alma mater Washington State University. In 2008, he was named a living legend by the Library of Congress. In 2013, Mr. Schieffer was inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.

Other speakers at the event will include veterans who served in various aspects of the Vietnam conflict. The event will honor their service and also will look at how those experiences influenced their lives since.

Retired Navy Commander Alvarez, Jr., who was the first American aviator shot down over Vietnam and held prisoner for 8 ½ years, will be among the featured speakers at the event. He holds numerous military decorations including the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Commander Alvarez, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, was a 26-year-old Navy pilot based on the USS Constellation aircraft carrier in the South China Sea on Aug. 5, 1964, as tensions were heightening in the area. He was part of a bombing mission over North Vietnam sent in retaliation after a reported North Vietnamese attack a day earlier on two U.S. destroyers. The attack became known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident and led to the start of significant escalation of U.S. military action in Vietnam.

In a recent interview with the BBC News, Commander Alvarez, who now lives in Potomac, said he survived imprisonment in what became known as the “Hanoi Hilton” thanks to the mutual support of the other prisoners who communicated with each other by tapping on the prison walls.
“We had a philosophy that you didn’t ever let your fellows down,” he said in the interview. “If they couldn’t take care of themselves, you took care of them because you knew darned well they would do the same. And we had a goal. We were determined to come home with our personal integrity, our reputation and with our honor.”

Retired Air Force Colonel Cherry, who now lives in Silver Spring, was on a combat mission on Oct. 22, 1965, when his F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber was shot down over North Vietnam. Colonel Cherry ejected and was subsequently captured, becoming the first and highest ranking black officer to become a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Subjected to harsh interrogation and repeated torture, he spent more than seven years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi until his release on Feb. 12, 1973.
Colonel Cherry was awarded the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Outstanding Service to the Military Community award from the Tuskegee Airmen.
Mr. Cherry’s life is the subject of the book, Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam, by James S. Hirsch
Retired Navy Captain Cronin, a pilot, was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam and had flown 175 missions when his A4 Skyhawk was shot down over North Vietnam on Jan. 13, 1967. He was released after the Paris Peace Accords were signed on March 4, 1973. Captain Cronin earned two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, four Bronze Stars, 15 air medals and two Purple Hearts.

After returning home, Captain Cronin was amazed to learn no U.S. law existed to declare war crimes to be an offense that U.S. courts would prosecute because, after six years of torture, he said he understood that such a law was crucial to protecting U.S. service personnel. During the mid-1990’s, while flying as a commercial airline pilot and while studying for his law degree, Captain Cronin conceived the idea of the War Crimes Act of 1996, which states that any war crimes committed by or to a U..S Armed Services member or U.S. national are federal crimes as required by the Geneva Conventions.

Retired Air Force Colonel Walker, who now lives in North Bethesda, was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from Jan. 14, 1968, until his release on March 14, 1973. He was a crew member of an EB-66C aircraft with the call sign “Preview 01.” It departed Takhli Royal Thai Airbase on a single aircraft mission to selectively jam enemy radar for an ensuing strike mission. However, Preview 01’s F-4 fighter escort aircraft were drawn away by a MiG-21. As soon as the Phantoms had been drawn off and engaged in aerial combat with the MiG, two other North Vietnamese planes came from low altitude and shot down Preview 01 with an air-to-air missile.

All seven crewmen were able to eject, but they were in enemy territory. Four were eventually captured, but their status was unknown. It was years later that military intelligence learned that each of the four had in fact been captured and each man’s status was changed to prisoner of war. Colonel Walker was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit.

Mr. Stark was working as a Navy civilian in Hue, which is in the northern part of South Vietnam. He was heading an industrial relations office that had the responsibility of hiring Vietnamese to work for various military organizations. During the 1968 Tet offensive, Hue came under attack. Mr. Stark and others tried to hold off the enemy from their buildings, but on Jan. 31, 1968, he was captured and held for 5 ½ years. Mr. Stark’s family did not know he was alive until just a few days before his release on March 05, 1973. He was one of only two Department of Defense civilian employees who were captured. In 1962, President Kennedy had authorized that civilians could be eligible for a Purple Heart medal if they were involved in combat. On Jan. 4, 2010—more than 40 years after his service—Mr. Stark was presented with Prisoner of War and Purple Heart medals at the Washington Navy Yard. “This gentleman lost half a decade of his life in captivity and served as part of the Department of Defense when he was captured,” said Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia at the ceremonies. “That kind of sacrifice is rare. We haven’t had anyone held for that long in [recent] conflicts; it doesn’t happen like that anymore. So it is an honor to be here to meet and be part of a ceremony for a real American hero.”

Other featured speakers at the event will include retired Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, who ended her service after 28 years in the U.S. Air Force as one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history and who was one of the few military women to serve in Vietnam who was not a nurse. Brigadier General Vaught, who retired in 1985, forged new paths and pioneered opportunities for the servicewomen who would follow. When she was promoted to brigadier general in 1980, she became one of a handful of women to have achieved that distinction.
While her military accomplishments are extraordinary, General Vaught’s most lasting contribution likely will be her successful efforts related to the Women In Military Service For America Memorial. She was the driving force that built and now operates the $22.5 million memorial, which is located at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery. The Women’s Memorial is the nation’s only major memorial to pay tribute to the nearly 3 million women who have served in the U.S. military.

Another speaker will be retired Army Lt. Colonel Douglas “Lamar” Allen, Jr., a Burtonsville resident who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying his helicopter in a monsoon to rescue numerous wounded and injured soldiers who were pinned down after an ambush.

In March 1969, during heavy inclement weather in the central highlands of Vietnam, he was flying on a different assignment when he monitored that a “sister” ground unit had been ambushed and had wounded soldiers still under attack, but needed numerous wounded to be extracted. The normal Medevac (evacuation) units indicated they were grounded due to the weather and could be hours from sending help. Lt. Colonel Allen broke into the discussion and indicated he and his crew were in position to could try and assist.

“I just said to my crew that we need to do this and no one said not to,” said Lt. Colonel Allen. “Due to the weather and to stay out of enemy ground fire—we were flying at tree top level, but knowing the area of operations, I felt confident we could find them and hopefully get in and out quickly. Everything was moving pretty quickly, but they carved out a landing area for us and we were in and out in about two minutes. We got all six wounded out and they say we saved several lives. I thought it was 60-40 that we could make it, and we were lucky. In those situations, you just did whatever needed to be done to assist your fellow soldiers.”

Also speaking will be Tom Murphy, a current Rockville attorney who was seriously wounded in Vietnam and ironically ended his long recovery in nearby Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Pfc. Murphy was with the 25th Infantry Division of the Army in June 1969 when his unit was on patrol in an area known as Parrot’s Peak, close to the Cambodian border. A major battle erupted at Fire Base Washington about two miles away as two North Vietnam regiments attacked a much smaller American company.

“At first light, we went out to the edge of the jungle, marching toward the fire base on patrol,” he said. “Most of the area had been cleared and was open. I was on line with my unit searching the area, and there was not much out there except this lone tree. And from behind this tree jumps an NVA soldier with an AK-47. He didn’t even have a helmet on. I had an M-16. He shot me and I shot him. I lived and he died.”

Mr. Murphy was awarded a Purple Heart for his service actions. He went on to become a Rockville attorney and eventually became the first Vietnam veteran to be elected president of the Bar Association of Montgomery County, as well as the Maryland State Bar Association.

“So many in our community heroically served our nation, and the world, 40 years ago,” said Council President Leventhal. “Oct. 24 will be a day where our County recognizes those whose actions helped that had such a great impact on our nation. There have been many books written, and many movies made, about the people we will honor, but on this day, we will personally thank—and hear directly from—some of the men and women who did so much to shape the life and freedom we know today.”

An important part of event will be the opportunity to record the stories of the Montgomery residents who served in Vietnam.

“Whether they were troops in the jungles, on helicopters and bombers, serving on the ships, the river patrol boats, in the medical corps or the troops supplying them all, there are stories that have yet to be told about Vietnam,” said Merlyn Reineke, chair of the PEG Governing Board. “This event will introduce a new generation to the sacrifices made by the brave men and women in Vietnam, and as the County’s cable providers, we will be there to preserve these stories so future generations will know about their heroism. It is hard to believe there has never been a major event to honor Montgomery County’s Vietnam vets, but we think this is the right time to salute them.”

# # # #