September 19, 2008

Jennifer Tanner
Communications Specialist

AFROTC hosts General and Prisoner of War

VALDOSTA - Retired Brigadier General William T. Tolbert and former prisoner of war Maj. Bill Fornes addressed more than 130 cadets of Valdosta State University's Air Force ROTC Detachment 172 during the weekly lead lab at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, in Pound Hall.

Tolbert was the special assistant to the deputy commander for operations, Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base. In 1955, he commissioned through the ROTC program at Mississippi State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. A graduate of the Squadron Officer School, Air War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, he has served several assignments tallying more than 5,000 flying hours on aircraft, including F-15s and F-16s. He also boasts numerous military decorations and awards, such as the Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and many others.

Fornes commissioned into the Air Force Reserve from the ROTC program at Virginia Polytechnic Institution in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts in Business. During his military career, he completed 49 combat air support and rail interdiction missions before crashing in North Korea, when he sustained damage to his aircraft. After being held by the Chinese for 13 months in captivity, he was repatriated and retired in 1974 after completing 24 years of service. He holds a Silver Star, the Air Medal, a Purple Heart, a POW Medal and several service medals and ribbons. Author of Walking Through a Spider's Web, Fornes and his wife Nancy volunteer at the National Prisoner of War Museum at Andersonville National Historic Sight. Nancy and his sister Adeline Morton of Michigan joined Fornes at the event.

Each man addressed the cadets and visitors then answered questions about their time served, thoughts during times of tribulation and the motivating factors that drove their success. Their visit was timed perfectly with the detachment's annual POW MIA commemoration. At 8 a.m. Friday morning, cadets raised the POW flag to fly high above VSU campus and they will do the same on Saturday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium as the VSU Blazers take on Ouachita Baptist.

Because both men are ROTC graduates, their stories made a special impact on the students, including cadet Elizabeth Larson, who considered it an honor to hear such distinguished men with impressive military stories.

"No matter what you believe about the wars we have been in or are currently fighting, we owe so much to the men and women who have served and are still serving in the United States military," Larson said. "It is easy to get lost in our everyday lives and forget how much they have given and continue to sacrifice."

Both men have authored books about their military experiences. In "From Dirt to Duty," Tolbert describes how he went from farm boy to fighter pilot and eventually a brigadier general. Fornes details his experience as a POW and the sacrifices made by his family in "Walking Through a Spider's Web."

Call AFROTC Detachment 172 at (229) 333-5954 for more information about commemorating those who were prisoners of war or missing in action.

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