The sheer number of Americans listed as missing in action—more than 73,000 in World War II, 7,900 in Korea, hundreds during the Cold War, nearly 2,000 in Vietnam, and even on today’s modern battlefields—is difficult to grasp. Thus, it becomes a major importance to honor those who have endured captivity as prisoners of war (POWs) or who have been or continue to be listed as missing in action (MIA).  The VA Maryland Health Care System honored Maryland’s former POWs and expressed special appreciation to this group of Veterans earlier this month at the Perry Point VA Medical Center.

“Many of you suffered harsh conditions and treatment that most of us, including Veterans like myself, can only imagine, ” said Jeff Nechanicky, associate director for finance at the VA Maryland Health Care System and the site manager for the Perry Point VA Medical Center. “It’s an honor and privilege to be able to gather each year to thank you for your sacrifice to our country.”

Nechanicky also noted that while this luncheon is a happy celebration, any gathering of former POWs can only raise the presences—or lack thereof— of those who continue to be missing. He shared the news of some families recently receiving a degree of closure with the return of the remains of two soldiers missing from the Korean War.  “Sadly, so many more families are left not knowing the fate of their loved ones,” he said.

In the past, the luncheon guest list included more than 100 former POWs. In recent years, however, with the passing of WWII Veterans, the gathering’s numbers have been diminishing, and this year’s luncheon honored seven former POWs and their families.

Each former POW offers a unique story. They all share a common thread–– fear, brutality, deprivation, pain and loss.  But their stories are also fused with dignity, honor, character and a hope that transcend the extreme and inhumane experiences they survived.

Leonard Kirk, 93, a WWII Veteran who was taken prisoner in Germany, recalls the thin broth, the deprivation and hard surfaces that served as a bed when he was prisoner. After his return from Germany, he remained in the Army and his first duty station upon his return was Louisiana, where he guarded German POWs. “I can tell you they slept in beds with mattresses, sheets and pillows. They ate good food, compared to what we as prisoners had in Germany. We ate what the German soldiers had it wasn’t more than that broth,” said Kirk, who stays active and is an avid swimmer at his local gym. “I’m sure many of them wanted to return to the U.S. after they were sent back to Germany.”

Not all former POWs are enrolled in VA health care.  They may be experiencing health care issues that are likely related to the deprivation they suffered as POWs but may not realize the connection.  Clinicians throughout the VA system are specially trained to connect the dots, and we encourage all former POWs to enroll for VA health care, a benefit they earned and well deserve.

About the authors:  This article was written by Rosalia Scalia and Ming Vincenti, Office of Public & Community Relations for the VA Maryland Health Care System

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Published on Apr. 27, 2016

Estimated reading time is 2.7 min.

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  1. lewis cook May 5, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I am the cold war us army and cold war 666 usm corp volunteer 1979+1982 that shook the hand of GOD IN 1986 during the 666 reagan MAD era thus was the real reason the ww3 pending cold war ended so where is my 40 acres and a mule reward?

  2. May 2, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    my husband was a veteran of Vietnam and Korea do I get the medal

  3. THOMAS STAWSKI May 1, 2016 at 11:08 pm


  4. R G Meninkaitis April 30, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    “Rally in Support” of the Blue Water Navy Agent Orange Act
    On May 18, there will be a gathering in Washington, DC, of veterans, friends and family members. Everyone is encouraged and welcome to come. We will be having a Rally in Support of the two bills that are languishing in both the House and Senate Veterans Committees. Hopefully, this will bring some attention to the subject and help get those Bills brought to the Floors of both House and Senate for a vote.
    We will all meet up at the street level near the exit for the Metro stop at ‘Capital South’ at 10AM. As a key part of this Rally, we are requesting that everyone coming to Washington, DC on May 18 make an appointment with their Senator or Representative during the morning of May 18 before lunch. Second choice would be for an afternoon appointment. You can call ahead to set an appointment with their office. This is a very important item to get done while you are visiting, and is a focal point for our “Rally In Support.”
    You can go to and put “S681” or “HR969” in the search box to see if your Representatives and Senators are listed as Co-Sponsors of those Bills. If they are, stop in to thank them for their participation and ask that they help get the other Senators or Representatives to sign on. If they are not Co-Sponsors, tell them that you want them to be. If you can’t get in to see them in person, ask to meet with the Veteran’s Liaison or some other staffer that will relay your message. Help them understand the necessity to get that legislation passed immediately. You can also invite them to attend or participate in the Press Conference that Representative Gibson is having at 1:00PM on May 18th. Ask them to coordinate with Rep. Gibson’s office. We will all be attending the Press Conference, expected to be in or near the Cannon Building.
    If you can’t get to Washington, you can have your own Rally in your local area. It only takes one veteran to create a “Rally.” Make yourself a sign with some of the wording given below and go to the public sidewalk or street in front of the nearest VA facility. If you can get some news coverage from your local newspaper or TV station, that would be great. You can explain our background to them. Hopefully you will be joined by other veterans, family members and friends. This is NOT a protest or demonstration against anything. It is a “Rally In Support” of the Blue Water Navy Agent Orange Act that we hope will be released from the Veteran Affairs Committees of the House and Senate so it can be brought to the Floor to be voted on. Since this involves the Department of Veterans Affairs, a VA facility is a logical place to show your support. Just keep it peaceful and legal!
    Alternatively, on May 18th, call (202)224-3121, give the operator your state and/or zip code and they will connect you with your elected officials’ office. Ask to speak with the liaison for Veterans Affairs…make it clear you are calling as a constituent asking for their support of HR 969 and S 681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act”

  5. Richard Burton April 29, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    My grandfather was a POW from 1948 to 1953 during the Korean war and has since passed on he was recognized with a purple heart and head stone to reflect what type of soldier he was recently by President Obama. Thanks for your service and sacrifice in a horrible situation. Love you Gip

    Wilbert Richard Gibson (POW)

    Richard Burton (grd son)

  6. Stephen Douglas April 29, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    God Bless You All !!!

    How about those pow’s turned back from “freedom bridge” in Korea? Any updates? Any hope? Please remember them.

    Steve Douglas

  7. robert E Borum April 29, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    thank you for your service , I joined the airforce in jun 1950 went to korea and within 6 months I was pow for 28 months returned to the air force and stayed till 1964 and was discharged due to back injury I am a 100% disabled veteran

  8. Terence Doherty April 29, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Dear Sir: Been denied several time for POW recognize.

  9. Tom Dunn April 28, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I’m both pleased and proud to be the son of a former POW, and seeing the photo attached to this post brought tears to my eyes. those fellas deserve every accolade and every bit of credit they receive, and I appreciate you spotlighting them!

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