Three men stood at attention. Though bowed by age and experience, they stood tall; their chins held high, eyes clear. Between them, they endured 11 years of unimaginable hardships in prisoner of war camps in Korea, Vietnam and Germany.
Every April, the national POW/MIA advocacy group, “Rolling Thunder” awards POW’s with medals at the National POW Museum in Andersonville, Ga.
Army Cpl. Richard Caverly, Navy Cmdr. Bradley Smith and Army Cpl. Robert Eldridge couldn’t make the trip to Georgia, so the group came to them Saturday.
A fourth, Army Air Corps T/Sgt. Edward Dostie, couldn’t attend.
A color guard marched somberly through assembled veterans, who wore colorful caps and badges, at the Kirby-Stewart American Legion Post 24 and presented the flag. Every head bowed for a moment of silence.
“Our belief is that soldiers don’t send soldiers to war, politicians do,” said Jim Linesberry, of the Rolling Thunder chapter based in Riverview.
The group demonstrates once a year at the Pentagon to bring attention to POW/MIA rights, and to be sure that those who are missing are never forgotten, said Linesberry, who served 22 years in the Army.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. David J. Scott and retired Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey C. Lambert took turns awarding the ex-POW’s first with medals, then commemorative coins, then proclamations from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
“It means something to serve. We have an obligation to these men,” Scott said of the honorees.
During his time in captivity, Eldridge subsisted on bread, water and prayer.
“The Lord gave me strength to keep going,” he said.
Eldridge’s family learned of his liberation when one of his schoolteachers saw a photo of him in a newsreel at the movie theater in Mansfield, Mass.
“It was a very emotional time,” he said.
“These men are true patriots,” said Lambert. “It’s very important to honor them.”
Marine Cpl. Justin Caverly is very proud of his granddad, Richard Caverly.
“This was an awesome ceremony,” said the young Marine who has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’m proud of him, and he feels the same about me.”