POW Presented with Medal
By Susan Nolan
Sen. Chris Van Hollen called Ron Dolecki’s story “heroic” at a ceremony honoring the Huntingtown resident on June 23. Few would disagree.
CBM Bay Weekly readers may remember we reported on Dolecki in April of this year. In 1965, he was a 20-year-old Army specialist serving in Ethiopia when he and two other men were taken prisoner by the Eritrean Liberation Front. At the time, the separationist group was at war with their national government. Dolecki, helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer Jack Kalmbach and their Ethiopian translator Habte “Sam” Mesme endured brutal treatment at the hands of their captors before he escaped and made the dangerous trek across enemy territory. Thanks to Dolecki’s courageous efforts, he and his fellow prisoners survived the ordeal.
Now, 57 years later, Dolecki has finally received not only the recognition, but his Prisoner of War Medal, too. He began petitioning the Army for the award in 2004 after his wife secretly applied for it on his behalf. She received a rejection letter. That rejection began an 18-year fight to get Dolecki his medal.
Over the years, he enlisted the help of Sens. Paul Sarbanes, Barbara Mikulski, Ben Cardin and most recently Chris Van Hollen. Military historian and attorney Dr. Dwight Mears took up Dolecki’s cause pro bono. Van Hollen wrote the Secretary of the Army twice and included a clause in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act directing the Army to correct its previous misapplication.
On March 31, Van Hollen’s office announced Dolecki would receive the award. Almost three months later, Dolecki now has it in his hands.
“I am relieved to have the ordeal behind me,” Dolecki says. He described the POW Medal ceremony as, “Fabulous. A truly fantastic occasion for my family and me.”
Dolecki was joined by his wife Linda, daughter Lesley Keller and grandson Christian Dolecki. General Mark S. Bennett presented the POW Medal on behalf of the U.S. Army.
In addition to Van Hollen, Sen. Ben Cardin was on hand. “We cannot overstate our gratitude for all the sacrifices made by Specialist Dolecki while serving this country. He is a hero who endured excruciating conditions while held captive,” Cardin said in his opening remarks. “It is a privilege to join in honoring Mr. Dolecki for his incredible spirit, patriotism, grit and bravery.”
Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia were also present to honor their constituent David Strickland, who was also awarded the POW Medal after being held captive by the Eritrean Liberation Front in 1975.