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Shining a Light on Captivity and Courage

Shining a Light on Captivity and Courage

In the shadows of memory’s darkest corners, there exists a fraternity of heroes, forged in the crucible of captivity. They are Former Prisoners of War (FPOW). Individuals whose resilience, sacrifice, and unwavering spirit defy the horrors they endured.

These individuals, who are torn from their homes and families, go through unimaginable hardships that are both mentally and physically challenging. Despite these difficulties, their bravery, strength, and sacrifices deserve our admiration and recognition.

FPOWs, often captured in the line of duty, find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar world where they are isolated from their homeland and loved ones. They come from diverse backgrounds and military units, making their shared experiences a unique blend of cultures, languages, and backgrounds.

Recently, the Orlando VA Healthcare System (OVAHCS) held a special ceremony to recognize the sacrifices made by those who have experienced the ordeal of being an FPOW. It was a privilege to hear the accounts of two American soldiers and gain insight into their experiences.

Luis Antonio Ortiz-Rivera, of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, enlisted in the United States Army at 19 years of age. At the age of 21, he was sent overseas to aid in the Vietnam War and on December 17, 1966, his unit was overrun in Binh Dinh Province. Ortiz-Rivera expressed that he never expected to make it home. His experiences were harrowing, with a scarcity of food and medicine making his ordeal even more challenging.

“For those who haven't experienced it, the idea of being a prisoner of war can be difficult to grasp,” said Ortiz-Rivera.

Captured and confined within barbed wires and watchful eyes, foreign captives embark on a journey into the unknown. These individuals are separated from their comrades and face an overwhelming sense of isolation. As they adapt to a new language, culture, and way of life, they must learn to navigate an unfamiliar terrain.

For Daniel Hudson, a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps, recounted his own experiences as a prisoner-of-war during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

According to Hudson, during the embassy takeover, food and water were in short supply. They subsisted on their diet of rice and tuna for the duration of their captivity and had to resort to drinking water from swimming pools.

“The toughest part of the experience is the toll it takes on one’s mental health, as each day feels the same,” said Hudson.

Despite being held in prison camps, former POWs often form an unbreakable sense of camaraderie.

Shared adversity often leads to the formation of bonds that transcend national boundaries. These individuals uplift and encourage one another, sharing stories of home and cherished memories. The common dream of being reunited with their loved ones provides them with hope and motivation.

Hudson said, "It's my responsibility to help you get through a bad day, just as it will be your responsibility to help me get through mine tomorrow."

After spending 13 months in the jungle, Ortiz-Rivera was released on January 23, 1968. Ortiz-Rivera expressed that acknowledging those who served and fought is of great significance to him.

Hudson spent a total of 133 days as a prisoner of war in Baghdad, Iraq. On December 10, 1990, he was freed and returned to the United States.

“Returning home is a bittersweet experience,” said Hudson.

The road to recovery often involves resilience, therapy, and the unwavering support of loved ones. It's a remarkable testament to the human spirit that individuals can reconstruct their lives and find hope, even when faced with unimaginable adversity.

“Taking a moment to consider the tales of FPOWs serves as a reminder of the immense sacrifices made by these courageous individuals,” said Orlando VA Healthcare System Director, Mr. Timothy J. Cooke. “Their stories are a poignant reminder of the human capacity for endurance and bravery.”

For more information about the Orlando VA Healthcare System’s FPOW program, please reach out to Amanda Scott, FPOW Advocate at, 407-620-0829.