Navy Cmdr. (ret.) Everett Alvarez, Jr.
NIH recognized the sacrifices of veterans from all five military branches and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps at the 3rd annual NIH Veterans Day Celebration held Nov. 5 in Masur Auditorium.
The celebration featured talks by NIH leadership and a retired Navy pilot who was held captive in North Vietnam for more than 8 years. The ceremony also included a performance by the Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team and a remembrance honoring fallen, missing or imprisoned service members.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins thanked veterans and their families for their tremendous sacrifices to preserve Americans’ freedom. He noted that NIH employs 1,000 veterans. In fiscal year 2014, 122 veterans were hired—48 of whom have disabilities.
“Veterans are using their knowledge, skills and experience to help advance NIH’s mission of turning scientific discoveries into better health for all,” he added.
Navy Cmdr. (ret.) Everett Alvarez, Jr. gave the celebration’s keynote address. He was the first pilot to be held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
His plane was shot down Aug. 5, 1964, and he was captured. He was the first prisoner taken to what was later known as “the Hanoi Hilton.”
In 1973, North Vietnam released Alvarez along with more than 500 other prisoners of war.
“There were some trying times,” he said. “In order to make it, we recognized that we had to be creative, face reality and show some guts.”
He said prisoners were isolated in tiny cells with no ventilation. They had to tap on cell walls to communicate with each other.
In the top photo, the Table of Remembrance ceremony honors fallen, missing or imprisoned servicemembers. Below, an Air Force drill team puts on an exhibition.
Photos: Bill Branson
The medical treatment for injured or sick prisoners was grossly inadequate. Many prisoners with severe injuries or illnesses died. The few who survived were cared for by other prisoners, he recalled.
“That’s an example of the cohesiveness and the kind of love that was necessary to make it through that situation,” Alvarez said.
Today, he is chief executive officer of Alvarez and Associates, an information technology and executive management services company. When hiring, he looks for people who understand his company’s commitment to quality and integrity. Those people, he said, are veterans.
“They are tremendous assets,” he said. “They understand loyalty, commitment, sacrifice and patriotism.”
Maureen Gormley, chief operating officer of the Clinical Center, applauded the efforts of the NIH Veteran Recruitment and Retention Force to hire veterans. Founded in 2011, the VRF helps NIH uphold the federal government’s commitment to hiring veterans.
She said the CC has worked with the VRF to implement two hiring initiatives at the hospital, the Veterans Incentive Program and the Operation Warfighter Initiative.
The Veterans Incentive Program offers combat medics from the Army and corpsmen from the Navy the opportunity to work as patient care technicians at the Clinical Center. Program participants also enroll in a nursing degree program. Gormley noted that upon completion of the program, the veterans may apply for permanent nursing positions at NIH.
The CC also participates in the Operation Warfighter Initiative, a federal government internship program. The initiative offers wounded active duty servicemembers job training opportunities while waiting for a medical board determination. She noted that the CC has hosted 7 veterans from the Army and the Marines.
“Veterans are special,” she said. “Their experiences in military services truly enrich our family of employees at NIH.”
Between talks, the drill team offered a sample of its skill. Veterans also took part in the Table of Remembrance ceremony—the tradition of setting an empty table to honor fallen, missing or imprisoned military service members.
The NIH Veterans Day Celebration was organized by the NIH VRF in partnership with the Office of Human Resources.