Written By: Aiya Madarang
September 20 is POW/MIA Recognition Day, an important day that we set aside to honor Prisoners of War and Missing in Action service members. Originally established to address the POW/MIAs of the Vietnam War, POW/MIA Recognition Day remembers all those who were POWs of any conflict, or who remain MIA today. Though the Vietnam War ended decades ago, there are still over 1,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel still unaccounted for.
To raise awareness of this, POW/MIA Recognition Day was created by the National League of POW/MIA Families, an organization that was founded in the late 1960s by the wife of a ranking POW. The League’s full mission, as stated on its website, is, “to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War.”
Everett Alvarez, Jr., who served in the US Navy from 1960 to 1980, was one of these prisoners of war.
Born in Salinas, CA in 1937 to Mexican immigrants, Everett immediately proved to be a high achiever. He attended the prestigious Santa Clara University on a scholarship and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. In 1960, just as the Vietnam War was beginning to escalate, Emmett joined the US Navy and was trained as a pilot. He later said in an interview with History Net:
“I talked to my dad and said, you know I could always be an engineer, but I would kick myself for the rest of my life if I didn’t become a pilot. I wanted to fly.”
In 1964, Everett was flying an A-4 Skyhawk over the Pacific in support of Operation Pierce Arrow when he was shot down by enemy forces. He was immediately captured and brought to Hoa Lo Prison in North Vietnam. There, he spent eight and a half years — a total of 3,113 days — in brutal captivity, making him the second-longest held POW in American history. (The longest-held POW was US Army Colonel Floyd James Thompson, who spent nearly nine years in captivity.)
Everett was released and brought home in February of 1973. After some hospital recovery, he continued his education and received a master’s degree in Operations Research and Systems Analysis from the US Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from the Navy with the rank of commander in 1980. He went back to school again, this time receiving a JD from The George Washington University in 1983.
In addition to being a decorated veteran, Everett is now a highly accomplished lawyer, entrepreneur, executive, and co-author of two books about his war experience, Chained Eagle and Code of Conduct. His military decorations include two Purple Hearts, two Legions of Merit, the Silver Star, two Bronze Star medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and many more.
Alpha’s own Director of Military Sales, Mike “Cowboy” McCartin, also a former Naval Aviator, had the honor of meeting Mr. Alvarez at a charity gala in Washington, D.C. this past year. Cowboy recalls when meeting Mr. Alvarez- “I’ve never had a more enjoyable evening with a man that was more of a gentleman.”
The story of Everett Alvarez, Jr. is a story of survival and resilience and an important part of the American heritage. It exemplifies what our military can teach us about honor and bravery in the face of fear.
POW/MIA Recognition Day is a time for remembering our nation’s heroes like Everett Alvarez, including all of those still unnamed and unaccounted for. The National League of POW/MIA Families also encourages anyone nationwide hold candlelight vigils, fly the POW/MIA flag, and support the League in its efforts to raise awareness.