There were two flags prominently displayed at Thursday's memorial service for retired Navy Capt. J.B. McKamey at Pensacola Naval Air Station, where he was commanding officer from 1982 to 1984.
His coffin was draped with a U.S. flag, a symbol of the country that McKamey swore to defend and, if needed, give himself in sacrifice to preserve. Then, next to the coffin, there was the stark black-and-white POW/MIA flag that symbolized the reality of true sacrifice.
McKamey, a prisoner of war for nearly eight years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, died at his Pensacola home on Feb. 9. He was 74 years old.
Six of eight pallbearers at Thursday's service at the Naval Aviation Memorial Chapel were also former POWs. They described a brave man who never lost his sense of humor during his 2,813 days in captivity in Hanoi, North Vietnam.
"He was always happy," said Ken Fisher, 73, a retired Air Force colonel who was McKamey's bunk mate in captivity for nearly three years. "He used to play a game with cards that he made out of toilet paper. He'd deal out a few cards and point to one and ask me 'What does that represent? Think about it.' I'd say 'four' and he'd say, 'No, it's two.' He was just making it up; winging it as he went along."
McKamey, a Naval aviator, was shot down on June 2, 1965. He was released on Feb. 12, 1973. He remained in the Navy, eventually becoming Pensacola Naval Air Station's commanding officer.
His former command chaplain, retired Navy Capt. Earl Boyette, said anyone who visits NAS will see McKamey's influence as soon as they enter. During his command, a new security building at the entrance was built, and was originally designated as Building No. 666. But McKamey had just finished a weekend course studying the Book of Revelation from the Bible, where the number 666 is listed as "the number of the beast." Boyette and McKamey both thought the number might not be appropriate, as the building is the first structure greeting base visitors.
McKamey ordered the number changed, and today the building is No. 777.
"When it came to matters of faith," Boyette said, "even building numbers mattered to J.B. McKamey."
McKamey is survived by his wife, Nancy McKamey, three grown children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He is buried at Barrancas National Cemetery