Those who suffered a great deal for our country were honored today. Friday is National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Day. Here in the valley, a handful of ex-POW's get together every month.
Two flags fly outside the home of 86-year-old Joel Hinojosa. He's a proud American and ex-prisoner of war. It's been nearly sixty years, but the career army vet vividly remembers the horrors of being captured by the Chinese in North Korea during the Korean War.
“From that moment on was the beginning of my 1,007 days as a POW; 1,007 days. So, needless to say, during that period a lot of things happened,” said Hinojosa.
He describes marches all night long in temperatures well below zero, fellow servicemen dying, having to bury the bodies in frozen ground, and little to no food to eat. After nearly three years, handfuls of men got to leave one day at a time.
“150 names, then you had to wait till tomorrow, till tomorrow. When they finally called your name, there's not enough adjectives to describe what's going though your head. You just cannot believe this is happening,” said Hinojosa.
His story of survival is one of many in the valley. A monument with the names of 160 ex-POW's stands outside the Fresno V.A. Hospital. Among them, Rudy Giannoni, a WWII vet and member of the ex-POW Club in Fresno. At a monthly meeting, there's a room full of people who understand exactly what one another endured all those years ago.
“They treated us not too bad, but that prison camp was considered the worst prison camp in Germany,” said Giannoni.
During one of the coldest winters, Giannoni and eight thousand others were forced to march over 600 miles during a three month period. They were given no food or water.
“We had to scrape for anything we could find. People, some of the guys, were eating raw chicken, peeling them off and eating raw chickens, rats, eggs. If we could find a potato we'd eat a potato,” said Giannoni.
After losing 60 pounds, Giannoni was liberated May 5th, 1945. The 89-year-old believes his positive attitude helped him survive. Meanwhile, Hinojosa celebrates what he calls his 'freedom day' every year on August 29th.
“It's very emotional for me on that day for what I went through and what I saw. People did not make it, so I consider myself very blessed, very lucky,” said Hinojosa.
The memorial at the V.A. hospital was a gift from the Fresno POW Club. The names are of all the club members over the years, and these days, many have passed on.