Although they have lost, at least temporarily, many of the freedoms they fought to protect, they saluted the U.S. flag against the backdrop of brick walls and razor wire.
The Incarcerated Veterans of Roxbury hosted their annual POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony Thursday inside Hagerstown’s Roxbury Correctional Institution. More than a dozen inmates attended the public event at the medium-security prison’s flagpole and memorial.
“Guys gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can maintain the freedoms that we have,” Jim Proctor said. Proctor, 62, of Annapolis, said he served in the Air Force and later the Army from 1970 to 1974. He has been incarcerated in the Maryland prison system for 37 years. “Many went unappreciated, but they should never be forgotten.”
September 21 is the national recognition day for prisoners of war and the missing in action. According to the National League of POW/MIA Families, the number of Americans still missing and unaccounted for from the war in Vietnam is 1,594.
Roxbury inmates founded IVOR in 1987. In 1989, the prison inaugurated an inmate-constructed veterans and memorial in the prison yard. The group has about 35 members, according to Corrections Officer Derrell Rowland, a Navy veteran who advises the group.
“They’re veterans who, while they’re serving their debt to society, want to do it with a little dignity and honor,” Rowland said. “I think it’s a great way to allow the inmates who have served their country to honor POW/MIA foundations, and honor the fallen and missing.”
The group hosts several ceremonies throughout the year, including Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Rowland said. They have also organized a charity walkathon in the prison yard to raise money for the Ralph S. Tagg Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans.
Proctor was stationed in Texas and the Philippines during his service, but he said he has brothers who, like many IVOR members, participated in the Vietnam War.
“It’s important to remember the sacrifices they made and stop to think about the liberties that we have compared to other countries and respect that we have them,” Proctor said.
Thursday’s event included a flag ceremony and patriotic songs sung by a Roxbury inmate. Roxbury Warden Denise Gelsinger delivered some remarks.
“I’m glad to see this memorial has come to the fruition that it has,” Gelsinger said. “It is a privilege to be here to acknowledge those who have given sacrifices for this country.”
IVOR is more active than other incarcerated veterans’ groups, according to member Isaac Gray, who transferred to Roxbury from prison in Jessup 12 years ago.
Gray, 60, of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, is an Air Force veteran and who worked as a mental health clinician before his incarceration 33 years ago. He expects to be released next year and hopes to work in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.
“Many veterans, even though they may have endured tragedy and disaster, they did serve honorably at one time,” Wolf said. “If you’re willing to give this sacrifice to the country, then perhaps the country is willing to at least say, ‘If you make amends, do what is correct and turn your life around, then we’re going to help you.’ That’s all we ask.”