By Penny Randall / NAS Meridian Public Affairs
The Meridian Star
Naval Air Station Meridian participated in the National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Sept. 20.
A ceremony was held at the base chapel and featured guest speaker retired Air Force Col. Keith Lewis of Jasper, Ala.
Capt. Charles C. Moore II, commanding officer of NAS Meridian, welcomed Lewis and had a few words to say about the event.
"Today is one of those days that is close to my heart, because it is about the servicemen and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives," Moore said. "We will never stop searching for those who have served in defense of our nation."
Mississippi Director of Veteran's Affairs Randy Reeves was on hand to read a proclamation from Governor Phil Bryant that declared Sept. 20 as POW/MIA Recognition Day in Mississippi.
Lewis was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for 176 days after being forced to eject his F-4 aircraft while deployed with the 335th at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in 1972. Lewis was taken as a Prisoner of War on Oct. 5, 1972.
"My feelings about that time are hard to put into words, because it brings back so many unpleasant memories," Lewis said. "But I always knew God was going to take care of me."
During Lewis' speech he shared details of his time in captivity and the day he was released during Operation Homecoming on March 29, 1973.
"It's amazing to see these young faces in the audience today," said Lewis who then asked the audience, "How many of you were born after 1973?"
More than half of the audience was filled with military members under the age of 20.
"Then what I'm telling you about today happened before you were born. It was a time that you may not even understand or have explored or learned about," Lewis said. "I encourage you all to have each other's backs. What I talked about today is not to promote myself - but an opportunity to remind everyone what happened in Vietnam and that there are still those missing in action."
After his release from captivity, Lewis was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, where he was reunited with his wife and children.
"I truly believe no matter what happened to me --no matter how many beatings I took -my wife went through was much worse than what I had to endure," Lewis said. "She didn't know if I was alive or dead until the treaty was signed - the unknowing was far worse for her."
After 10 years as a pilot, Lewis knew his calling in life had changed. He requested and received an assignment to the Air Force Institute of Technology to complete theology and seminary training from September 1973 to June 1976.
And for the next 30 years his service to the nation would be as an Air Force chaplain at various bases in the United States and overseas. He retired in 1993.
"I believe my time as a POW helped me realize my true calling was to serve God, and the military helped me achieve my dream of going to seminary school," Lewis said.
The ceremony ended with the playing of Taps and a 21-gun salute perform by the NAS Meridian Ceremonial Detail Team.