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Marine puts serving country into perspective

May 30, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION
  • James H. Warner salutes during "The Star-Spangled Banner" Sunday at the Memorial Day observance at the Washington County Courthouse in downtown Hagerstown. He gave the keynote address.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

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HAGERSTOWN -- For those who never thought of the pain and suffering that was endured for this country's freedoms, James H. Warner put things into perspective Sunday afternoon with one story.

Warner, who spoke at the Memorial Day service at the Washington County Courthouse, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and was designated as a flight officer in 1965.

The Rohrersville resident volunteered for duty during the Vietnam War and flew more than 100 air missions.

Warner was shot down in 1967, became a prisoner of war and talked about being held in a prison camp in the Hanoi area.

One morning, Warner said he and others heard an American man nearby screaming and moaning, and saying "help me, help me."

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"It went on all day. It went on all night. And the next day. And the next night," Warner said.

It seemed the cries became weaker with each passing hour and eventually they stopped, Warner said.

The man was Lance Sijon, and Warner said he and others learned five years later that Sijon, like them, was shot down, but he was tortured to death.

"That's the debt we owe," said Warner, describing the sacrifices that Sijon made as "unimaginable."

Many prisons used to hold American POWs were close together in the Hanoi area and prisoners spent years living in them. Some of the prisons were known for rat infestations and filthiness, according to http://www.pbs.org.

Warner talked about his experiences in the Son Tay prison camp, where he was held after being shot down.

He said he found a razor blade in the concrete block where he was detained and considered committing suicide to prevent the enemy from prying any information out of him. But Warner decided that he had an obligation to live, no matter how difficult things became.

Warner said his interrogation ended with the death of Ho Chi Minh, president of North Vietnam.

"The death of Ho Chi Minh saved my life," Warner said after the ceremony.

After returning home, Warner practiced law and worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He said he was also a domestic policy adviser in the Reagan administration.

During Sunday's ceremony, more than 20 organizations were involved in wreath-laying ceremonies in front of the courthouse.

The traditional three volleys of gunfire came during the end of the ceremony and Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II offered words during the event.

Bruchey paid tribute to veterans' sacrifices, which protected the freedoms like the one that allowed him to appear in the ceremony, which was sponsored by Morris Frock Post 42 of the American Legion.

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