Friday, Sept. 17, 2010 | 5:02 p.m.
The midday sun was rising above Nellis Air Force Base on Friday as 100 soldiers, ex-POWs and their families gathered to commemorate National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
The names of 30 Nevadans and Nellis servicemen listed as POW/MIAs were read aloud as white daisies were placed in a memorial wreath and a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” played in the background.
As the temperature approached the triple digits, George Braverman sat in the front row watching the solemn ceremony. The 91-year-old is a World War II veteran who spent five months in a German POW camp in Belgium.
“I came to pay respect to those who didn’t make it,” he said. “It’s something you believe in, keeping their memory alive.”
Braverman, a Jewish soldier who had to tell his captors he was Christian, still remembers the harsh conditions of the POW camps – the lack of water, bedding, heat and clothing. However, the first thing that came to mind was the “black bread” the POWs were fed in the camps.
“It had sawdust in it,” he said. “If you didn’t toast it, you got diarrhea.”
“It’s an incredible experience to meet and talk to ex-POWs and hear their stories,” said Chris Cassem, a staff member at Nellis who helped organize the event, which featured a 21-gun salute and a fighter jet flyover.
Zach Cantu, an 18-year-old wing commander in the Rancho High School Air Force ROTC, said the service had special significance for his group members, who were eager to serve their country.
“It’s wonderful the POWs are being recognized because you know you’ll never be forgotten,” Cantu said. “Your legacy lives on.”
Gene Ramos, 77, is an ex-POW and a Korean and Vietnam War veteran who has attended Nellis’ POW/MIA ceremony since 1986. He carries a commemorative Medal of Honor coin from his ex-POW friend Hiroshi Miyamura to remember their experience in Chinese captivity during the Korean War.
“They were brainwashing us in the communist ways,” said Ramos, a Sunrise Manor resident. “If you didn’t answer the questions, you were placed in a corner and forced to kneel for hours.
“My knees are shot now,” he added. “I need pads if I’m going to garden.”
Despite his physical condition, he said it was important for him to participate in the ceremony.
“It means a whole lot,” Ramos said. “It shows the vets and the POWs that the U.S. still cares.”