Korean War POW Norman Hale speaks at VFW

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Korean War POW Norman Hale and his wife Winona / Nick Griffin

CULLMAN – National POW/MIA Recognition Day was observed Friday morning at Cullman’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2214. The day of recognition falls on the third Friday of September every year to honor missing service members and those who were held prisoner. The post was filled with children from Vinemont Elementary, their parents, veterans and their families.

The day began with a ceremony to honor those missing in action which featured a single table and chair that was placed to honor the men who could not be there to join us. It was covered in a white tablecloth to symbolize the purity of their intentions, a single plate to represent the place that they left in the hearts of their families, a candle to represent their rising spirit and salt to represent their families’ tears as they wait for them to come home. A Bible symbolized their faith in God and country and a single rose was placed to further represent their families at the table.

The speaker for this year’s celebration was U.S. Army veteran Norman Hale. Hale was held as a prisoner of war in a prison camp near Pyoktong, North Korea, near the Chinese border, from 1950-1953.

Now, Hale travels around the South speaking to groups about his experiences. Hale spoke to the audience about his time as a prisoner and the reasons why he thinks it’s important for people to understand what he went through. Hale explained that he loves speaking to children because most of them do not yet understand what it costs for America to be free. Hale ended his speech with a reminder of that cost by explaining the number of sacrifices that were made in that war including 54,246 dead, 103,284 wounded and 8,177 Americans that were either missing in action or taken prisoner.

Hale said that he knows how important his work is and is proud to do it.

“I’ve been to hundreds of places to speak. Churches, VFWs, American Legion, all the posts, I even speak at nursing homes and spoke to them where some were veterans. To speak to these children, I have to break it down in a way they can understand,” Hale said. “The death march I was on was horrible. I didn’t get to tell everything. We had to stop off in villages because the weather would get so cold and it was a 200-mile march. I rubbed my feet and my hands all night, every night because we had no heat.”

Hale said his harrowing experiences are what drive him to educate young people and he wants the next generation to understand what it costs to be free, but said he has been impressed at how knowledgeable children are when it comes to the sacrifices people have made for their country.

“I’ve spoken to children that wrote every word I said down on paper like they were writing a book and you’d be surprised how much fourth and fifth graders know about the conditions that people were in. The children need to know what it takes for America to be free because America is not free on its own; you have to pay a price. That price was paid by the 54,000 that I mentioned. I’m thankful that I can go and talk about a portion of what it takes to be free. It’s not that I want to tell it, because it hurts me to talk about it, but I need to tell it so people can understand. The only way America can be free is if we fight for it.”

It was a humbling, educational and inspirational morning for all those in attendance for this year’s observation of POW/MIA Recognition Day. The VFW will surely be filled with veterans, families and young students next year when we gather again to commemorate those who sacrificed themselves for their country.

In 2013, on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, Hale shared a detailed account of his experiences as a POW with Stars and Stripes. Read it and watch the video at http://qrne.ws/starsandstripes.

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