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Former POW tells Memorial Day crowd: 'We must never give up'

May 30, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • James H. Warner of Rohrersville, Md., was the guest speaker at the Memorial Day commemoration ceremony held in Veterans Park in Smithsburg Monday evening.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

SMITHSBURG, Md. — When James Warner and his comrades were freed from a prisoner of war camp, they waited until the C-140 pilot said they were out of Vietnam before cheering.

"We refused to show any emotion (when being freed) because we didn't want the enemy to see that," Warner said.

Warner, a U.S. Marine Corps captain, spent 5 1/2 years in captivity.

The Rohrersville, Md., resident went on to serve as a domestic policy adviser for President Ronald Reagan and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

On Monday evening, Warner delivered the keynote address at Smithsburg's Memorial Day commemoration.

It was the possibility of hearing Warner's speech that brought Leitersburg, Md., residents Lawrence and Patsy Johns to the event. It was their third Memorial Day service of the weekend.

The Johns had heard Warner's story before, and Patsy Johns said his "honesty and patriotism" are riveting.

Warner talked about his fear of revealing potentially harmful information when being interrogated and deprived of sleep. He considered committing suicide with a razor blade.

"Do I have an obligation to protect my country by killing myself?" Warner said he asked himself.

Instead, Warner thought about the Earth's creator and decided he had to defend life, including his own. He angered an interrogator who tried to get him to agree to a statement.

"I said, 'You might force me to say I believe it, but I'd be lying to you because I always lie to you,'" he said.

Warner continued to be interrogated for information he didn't have.

"We must never give up," he told the crowd in Smithsburg.

Larry Belella of Smithsburg called his town's ceremony personal and meaningful.

"We usually try to come every year. It's a time to take for those who gave their lives," said his wife, Joyce.

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