In honor or Memorial Day and the soldiers who died in combat, retired Air Force Colonel and Vietnam War POW John Fer spoke at the Sunday service at the Joint Forces Training Base
A Silver Star recipient, Fer was a pilot shot down during the Vietnam War. He remained a POW for over 6 years before being released on March 4, 1973. From the beginning of his address, Fer set the emotional and spiritual tone of the morning.
“We have to live each day, each week, each year, and lifetime with the longer view that we will eventually enjoy eternal salvation in heaven,” Fer said. “In this view, we are prepared to keep our enemies from threatening out national interests and stepping uninvited on our shores. Memorial Day was established to honor men and women who gave their lives in this defense.”
Servicemen and servicewomen of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and National Guard sat in full uniform listening intently as Fer reminded them that no other country possesses the internalized culture that spontaneously urges them to do what’s right. It is because of this God-given-gift, that every American has the duty to honor the men and women who have died in service to their country, he said.
Fer was born in San Pedro, Calif. and attended the University of Southern California. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. Prior to being shot down over North Vietnam, Fer had flown 54 combat missions.
Fer described the first day of his torture and interrogation as the most, “depressing, demoralizing, and despondent day of my life.”
Because of the physical torture, Fer admitted he told the Vietnamese which unit he was assigned to, which was more than he was obligated to under the Geneva Convention. But while sitting alone in his interrogation room, Fer saw on the small table in front of him the writing of a former POW which read clearly, “May God Forgive Me.” He drew comfort in the fact that he was not alone in his plight and “won the next round.”
All in attendance were moved by Fer’s story and appreciated the need for Memorial Day.
“It’s a time for reflection on all the sacrifices throughout the world,” said retired National Guard Staff Sergeant Michael Jackson. “We need to remember every year and keep the sacrifice high above our heads.”
“So many people have touched my life and made it possible with their sacrifice,” Retired Army Colonel and Chaplain Bill Thompson said. “We need this everyday so people who benefit from our sacrifices know about it, and know who is important.”
Fer wrapped up by reminding everyone Memorial Day is not a celebration of the beginning of summer but, rather, it is a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat. He recognized all in attendance that were his “comrades in arms” and offered his thanks and appreciation to them, their parents, and the wives and husbands who have suffered so greatly.
Fer ended with one final request for all in attendance.
“The next time you extend congratulation to our young military members and to us that have served say thank you for your service, and add to it thank you for your sacrifice.”