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The public is invited to Heroes Hall for a free celebration commemorating its second-year anniversary and the grand opening of Victory From Within. Local former POWs George Emerson, Dan Oldewage, Lloyd Roberts and Edison Miller will each be honored during an opening ceremony.
When: Saturday, Feb. 16, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Where: Heroes Hall at OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa (Enter through Gate 1 off of Fair Drive.)
Free admission and parking; refreshments, music and tours will be provided.
Note: the ceremony portion of the event will be held outside, so bring warm clothing and an umbrella in case of sprinkles.
Former POWs from Orange County share their stories of capture and captivity
According to the Veterans Administration, POWs make up about 0.158 percent of the veteran population, which means there are about 166 POWs living in Orange County.
This past month, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing four of these remarkable men, who experienced unspeakable horrors while imprisoned in POW camps in Germany, Korea and Vietnam.
George Emerson, 93, of Huntington Beach, was captured by the Germans during WWII after he was jettisoned from his airplane during a mid-air collision. He spent three months in a POW camp in Moosburg, Germany.
Dan Oldewage, 93, of Orange, was a prisoner of war in North Korea for two-and-a-half years. He was captured when the B-29 he was flying in was shot down by a Russian fighter jet.
Lloyd Roberts, 90, of Huntington Beach, was held captive for 27 months in North Korea after the Chinese army attacked his infantry unit in 1951.
Edison Miller, 87, of Irvine, was a prisoner of war for almost five-and-a half years at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, a former French colonial prison in North Vietnam. He was flying his 70th combat mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down.
These men endured starvation, disease, torture and isolation. Many of their friends and fellow POWs did not make it out alive. In one particularly appalling prison camp called the Caves, where Oldewage was held, the death rate was estimated at 60 percent.
Considering their ordeal, it is astonishing that these four men survived. But what is even more astounding is how they refused to let these events defeat them. In my conversations with them, they all expressed the belief that the experience had changed them in a positive way.
Dan Oldewage said that he doesn’t let things bothers him too much, and George Emerson said he believes it gave him a broader perspective of the world. Lloyd Roberts explained that not a day goes by that something doesn’t remind him of prison camp, and it’s usually food; he swore he would never waste a morsel of food the rest of his life. And when I suggested to Edison Miller that he must have suffered a great deal during his captivity, he said, “I didn’t suffer. I refused to let them cause me to suffer.”
It was both heartbreaking and inspiring to listen to their stories. I realized just how much I take for granted, even the little things like the freedom to take a walk, call a friend, eat a meal, take a shower, and visit the doctor. I also realized how little we, as a culture, know or talk about the sacrifices our services members have made for the freedoms we enjoy today.
It took some time for these POWs to begin talking about their experiences. In 2009, at the urging of his children, Oldewage finally began the process of recording his memories. And it wasn’t until 2014, more than 60 years after his release, that Roberts wrote and published his memoir, Korea: One POW’s Story.
It is my hope that our new exhibit at Heroes Hall, Victory From Within: The American Prisoner of War Experience, will help us break the silence and start talking about these stories of service, sacrifice, courage and resilience.
– Carol Singleton, Heroes Hall Supervisor
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