Prisoners of war and those missing in action were celebrated during the POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony Friday at TeWinkle Park in Costa Mesa.
"Events like these are essential for democracy," said Chris Martin, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant who was the keynote speaker.
Martin and his partner were attacked and injured while serving in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in December 2002. As a result, they spent two months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Martin said he had the honor of being the first wounded veteran visited by President George W. Bush.
Martin, a Huntington Beach High School alumnus, urged communities to recognize and remember POWs and MIAs. He brought to attention Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a prisoner in Afghanistan since June 2009.
"POWs are the true embodiment of the American hero," he said. "You can take a look at the pro athletes and see all the actors and singers and call them heroes, but not in my mind.
"In my mind, the heroes are the people who actually serve. These are the people that I believe deserve the recognition … There's not enough credit, in my mind, to be able to give to these awesome people. My admiration to these folks knows no bounds."
The ceremony, hosted by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa), included speeches from members of the Freedom Committee of Orange County and Yellow Ribbon America.
Mansoor said the purpose of the ceremony was to keep POWs in people's minds.
Martin advised people to rely on electoral leaders and use media to spread the word.
"I don't think nearly enough is being done," he said.
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