POWs, MIAs honored in San Diego ceremony

Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-18 21:38:38-04

A ceremony took place Friday at Naval Base San Diego to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The ceremony was held between the USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and the USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), both of which were named after POWs.

Retired Cmdr. Henry Bedinger, who was held captive for three years, four months and 19 days, said, "Our plane fell out of the sky like a rock."

He parachuted out amid enemy fire during the Vietnam War.

"I made it to the ground," Bedinger said. "The minute I made it to the ground I heard machetes chopping."

He got on the radio.

"When they finally discovered where I was hiding under a bush, my last words were, 'They're taking me alive. I'm a prisoner of war'," he explained.

They stripped him down and blindfolded him.

Cmdr. Everett Alvarez was being held hostage nearby. He endured eight and a half years of torture.

"My hands turned black for many months as a result of my arms being manacled so tight it cut through the bone," Alvarez said.

His own wife gave up on him and moved on, but his love of country never wavered.

"That was my goal, to come back to the greatest country in the word," Alvarez said. "We wouldn't have made it if it wasn't for the others around us."

Bedinger suffered the most hearing a fellow POW's agony.

"They tied him and they handcuffed him," Bedinger explained. "They stuffed rags in his mouth and then they beat him … kicked him and beat him. They broke three teeth, two ribs."

He said the guy was choking to death on the rag. He felt helpless, so he started to sing through the wall.

"We heard a huge [cough], and we learned later that's the time that he broke the gag," Bedinger added.

They usually just tapped the walls to communicate. Bedeinger said he simply could not give up.

"I literally had Admiral Stockdale and John McCain on the other side of me," he said.

Bedinger said their tremendous courage was an inspiration.

"They aren't heroes because they were captured," he said. "They're heroes because of what they did when they were captured."

More than 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War.