WASHINGTON - CBS News reported earlier about a group of American airmen held prisoner during World War II, and the battle to get them the recognition that had long been denied them.
On Thursday, that recognition finally came.Thousands of U.S. airmen serving as pilot and crew members flew bombing missions into the heart of Nazi Germany during World War II. Among them was Lt. Col. James Misuraca.
"We were told when we flew a mission if you get in trouble today over Germany and you can't make it back, go to Switzerland," said Misuraca.
Switzerland was a neutral country and considered safe. So that's where Misuraca's B-24 bomber headed after it was badly hit. He and his fellow crew members were detained by the Swiss military. When they tried to escape, they were sent to an internment camp.
After the war, many dismissed the men as cowards who had hidden in Switzerland to avoid combat.
That did not sit well with Army Maj. Dwight Mears, whose grandfather, Lt. George Mears, was imprisoned there. The Iraq War veteran spent 15 years researching what happened to the airmen, and made the case to the Air Force that they deserved recognition.
"They were left with the perception that what they had done was dishonorable. What I wanted to do was to reverse that stigma and to show these airmen that the country appreciated what they did," Mears said.
On Wednesday, the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, awarded prisoner of war medals to Misuraca and eight others in a ceremony at the Pentagon.
"You'll have to forgive me," an emotional Welsh said. "This is an incredible honor to be standing on the stage with these guys."
The general called the men courageous and told their families their lives were the legacy of that courage.
"It's something that I've been looking forward to for the last 15 years," said Misuraca. "It's occuppied a large part of my life."