Fifteen World War II veterans from Ventura County received a newly created prisoner-of-war medal Wednesday in a ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary for Veteran Affairs Edward J. Derwinski.
Derwinski, Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ojai), members of several veterans' organizations, military officers and county officials were present at the POW Medal ceremony held on a lawn at the Ventura County Government Center.
"There's a tendency over the years to forget the sacrifice that was made by men and women during the times peace has been threatened," said Derwinski, who was appointed to the new Cabinet-level post in March.
His department is charged with providing health care, disability payments, pensions, burial sites and other services for the nation's veterans.
Medal recipient Carl Rohlfing, who spent 3 1/2 years as a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines, said, "It's kind of nice to receive a little recognition, even though it wasn't really necessary."
Rohlfing, who estimates that he weighed about 90 pounds at the end of his internment, said he survived the sparse rice rations, forced labor and daily fear of execution by concentrating on getting back to the United States alive.
"I just kept remembering America and looking forward to getting home. It could be real hard, though, when you didn't know from day to day what your life was worth," he said.
On behalf of her husband, Edward, who died in 1984, Salina Coyle accepted the POW Medal with tears in her eyes.
After the ceremony she said, "I just wish so much that he could have been here because he would have been so proud."
Receiving the POW Medal were Rohlfing, Ray Church, Richard Davis, Robert Dundas, Wayne Evans, Delmar Kaech, Lawrence Moraga, Nicasio Quilentang, LeRoy Rusch, Arthur Santoyo, Frank Tomlinson, Joseph Felix and Pedro Domingues.
Accepting posthumous POW Medals on behalf of their husbands were Coyle and Maxine Miller, widow of Duane Miller.
Ventura County resident Lloyd Hill also received a Purple Heart for wounds received during a bombing on the Philippine island of Mindanao in 1942.
Veterans from all wars are eligible for the medal, but apparently no Vietnam veterans from Ventura County applied for it. "Mainly, we don't have many POWs from Vietnam yet in Ventura County," said Nancy Brodine, chairman of the POW/MIA committee in the Ventura County chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.