More than 100 former prisoners of war from around the country are expected in Warner Robins beginning Thursday.
They are here for The Ride Home, an annual event recognizing POWs and those missing in action, to be held in conjunction with the annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony to be held Thursday. Events related to The Ride Home will continue Friday and Saturday, including two caravans through the city escorted by law enforcement and expected to include several hundred vehicles.
The Ride Home, formerly held at the Andersonville National Historic Site, is being held in Warner Robins for the first time. It had been planned here last year but was canceled when Hurricane Irma struck, disrupting the ability of the POWs to travel.
Jim “Moe” Moyer, a founder of The Ride Home, said the POWs coming this year are about evenly divided between World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. A couple of Gulf War POWs are also expected to attend. He said they are coming as far away as California. Moyer said it’s a big deal for them to get together with those who have shared the same experience.
“It’s the camaraderie,” he said. “They have survived something extraordinarily challenging and definitely different. It’s a unique group of men and women and when they get together the talk is all about what happened to them.”
He said 120 former POWs have signed up to come.
The events begin Thursday with the National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony to be held at Central Georgia Technical College auditorium beginning at 3 p.m. It had previously been held at the Museum of Aviation but was moved this year due to the expected larger crowd The Ride Home is bringing. Former Vietnam POW William Arcuri will be the featured speaker. At the same location, starting at about 4:30 p.m., country music recording artist Ricky Lee will give a free concert.
On Friday at about 7 a.m., the POWs will be led by police escort to Andersonville for the National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony there. Although the Warner Robins ceremony is held on Thursday, the actual recognition day is Friday.
The POWs will be escorted back to Warner Robins and at about 3:30 p.m. they will be escorted from Harvest Church on U.S. 41 to Central Georgia Technical College for a banquet. The banquet, which requires a ticket, is the only event not open to the public. However, after the banquet there will be a free showing at 6 p.m. of the POW/MIA film “A Solemn Promise,” that will be open to the public. On Saturday, starting at 8:30 a.m. at Harvest Church, the POWs will be led on another caravan back to Central Georgia Technical College for a recognition ceremony and a lunch.
Moyer said when The Ride Home has been held in Andersonville, several hundred motorcycles, cars and trucks have been part of the caravan.
Although weather looks good for the events this year, Hurricane Florence led to the cancellation of one key element. Moyer had hoped to bring in a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial but it was stranded due to the storm.
Also on Wednesday, the Warner Robins Police Department held a ceremony in recognition of POW/MIA Day, including the unveiling of a permanent monument and raising of the POW/MIA flag. Patrol cars also will now have a POW/MIA sticker.
The ceremony featured Warner Robins resident and former Vietnam POW James Sehorn. The monument is a giant-sized replica of metal bracelets worn in recognition of POWs and MIAs. Typically the bracelet would have a person’s name, but the one at the police department, around the base of the flag pole, simply states “Until They ALL Come Home.”
Sehorn said after he was released from captivity in Vietnam more than 400 people sent him the bracelets they had worn that had his name on it, and he wrote them all thank you letters.
“Four hundred fellow Americans cared enough, to support even in my absence, the concept, the image, of a defender of this nation,” Sehorn told the crowd before the unveiling.
The monument was funded by Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle group that advocates for the return of prisoners of war and those missing in action.
For more details on the events go to theridehome.com and click on the “Itinerary” link at the top.