Almost two decades have passed since a Maryland veteran first tried to get the Prisoner of War medal. Now, after a long battle to get recognized, he will receive the honor.
Veteran Ron Dolecki’s battle to be honored with the Prisoner of War medal started in 2004.
His application was rejected by the Army because the people who captured him while he was on a mapping mission in Ethiopia were not an armed enemy force. He said it was because the U.S. had not declared war.
“It infuriated me,” said Dolecki, 76, of Huntingtown in Calvert County. “It convinced me that I’m not going to let this slide.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen worked to get language approved to accompany the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act to apply the law to Dolecki’s situation.
They’re currently scheduling a ceremony where he will get his medal.
“It shows that persistence does pay off,” said Van Hollen.
He spent about two weeks in captivity when Dolecki, his translator and helicopter pilot were ambushed by armed guerrillas, or uniformed members of the Eritrean Liberation Front.
“They knocked my interpreter to the ground,” he said. “I really thought they were going to kill him because one of the guerrillas had his rifle up in the air, and he was getting ready to hit the interpreter in the head with the rifle.”
They were led to Sudan where he said they didn’t have any food and had barely any liquids.
“Sometimes, they gave us water, but it was putrid. It was in goatskin bags, and it just stunk to high heaven,” he said.
“Once we were in the Sudan, and they relaxed their guard on us. We decided that was the best time for one of us to try to escape,” he said.
He had to also escape hyenas, other armed forces and the lack of fresh water before he made it to safety.
Now, not only will Dolecki get the POW medal, the Army posthumously awarded a medal to Jack Kalmbach, Dolecki’s pilot, who was held captive alongside him. Kalmbach passed away in 2015.
“I only wish we could have received our metals together while he was still alive,” Dolecki said. “But you know, that’s the way it is.”
Van Hollen said he’s thrilled that they will be able to celebrate both men and their service in a ceremony.
“It took battling the bureaucracy and changing the law, clarifying the law in order to make this happen. I’m glad we finally arrived at this day,” Van Hollen said. “It shouldn’t have taken such a long fight to get that medal.”