On May 6, 1967, Navy A4E Hawk Pilot Robert Wideman’s plane was shot down as he was flying over Northern Vietnam. He did not return to the United States until 1973.
For the six years Wideman was held captive in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war, his mother could not bring herself to eat steak because she didn’t know if her son was getting enough to eat.
This is what his mother told him at dinner one night, a couple weeks after Wideman returned from war, as she just stared at her untouched steak.
That uncertainty in war is common among member’s a POW’s family, the more than 30-year war veteran told CSU and local community members and about 100 cadets representing the university’s Air Force Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.
“We always knew we were getting our two slops and a flop a day,” Wideman said, speaking to the crowd on the lawn just south of the CSU Police Department, as part of Air Force ROTC’s 24-hour vigil honoring America’s prisoners of war and fallen soldiers. “Our families did not have a clue.”
But it was his family — his wife, mother, brother and father — that got him through the experience, helped him to survive.
When the media first publicized the American mistreatment of Middle Eastern prisoners of the War in Iraq in 2004, Wideman was against it.
“Today, people ask me what do I think about all of this stuff you hear about torture, about Americans torturing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan prisoners and Iraqi prisoners,” Wideman said, adding, ” . I don’t think (the American military) ought to do it.”
Wideman shared his story as part of Air Force ROTC’s celebration of National POW/MIA Day, which starts officially today.
Bart Probasco, the father of a senior AFROTC cadet, said Wideman’s speech “was very touching” and that “it’s good to remember these (American prisoners of war), that’s for sure.” Because his father served in World War II and his son will serve in the military after graduation, Probasco said recognizing the importance of America’s soldiers hits close to home.
Explaining that college students have a narrow view of the war, Capt. Ryan Anderson, who teaches a leadership studies class in the Department of Military Science, said the speech “had a lot of good information” and “provided a perspective a lot of college students don’t know.”
Blake Friend, commander of the Arnold Air Society, which fundraises for AFROTC, read the 1987 poem, “Come for Me,” which painted the physical and emotional scenes of a POW’s experience. As he did, two AFROTC cadets marched a single cadet to a 3-foot by 3-foot camouflaged, bamboo cage and locked her inside in an act representing the physical nature of captivity.
Later, in his speech, Friend reminded people of what America’s soldiers have given up for their country and of the significance of the holiday.
“Somewhere never found, these patriots were never able to share their stories,” he said. “That is why today, and each year since 1979, we remind our nation of their sacrifices.”
Staff writer Lauren Leete and News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at email@example.com.