EPME honors namesake at POW event

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mavi Smith
  • The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center
The commandant of the Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base addressed the Tennessee American Ex-Prisoners of War at their annual banquet at the Music Road Hotel here, April 9.

Chief Master Sgt. Donald E. Felch was invited to honor the legacy of his center's first enlisted commandant, former prisoner of war and Bataan Death March survivor, retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford.

Felch, who is the 12th commandant to lead the center, said he was humbled to speak to this audience about Chief Lankford.

Chief Lankford was an Air Force veteran who survived both the Bataan Death March and three years and six months of captivity and horrific conditions as a prisoner of war of Japan during WWII. In 1968, he came to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base and laid the foundation for a schoolhouse that would train more than 30,000 enlisted service members to lead, follow and manage at its Airman Leadership School and Noncommissioned Officer Academy.

Throughout his years at the center, he inspired the service members who attended officer and enlisted professional military education courses here with his story of survival. When he retired in 1981 with more than 42 years of service, he continued to speak here until his death on Aug. 22, 2008, at the age of 89.

"The Chief told us his story, a story of hunger, humility, brutality and sacrifice," Felch told the audience. "It was a story very familiar to many of you...but not familiar to most of us."

"He shared his faith with us unashamedly," said Felch. "He taught us about gratitude, humility, and what it really means to enjoy freedom."

Felch said he was humbled and honored to serve in the same role as Chief Lankford.

"We are all grateful for the incredible, indelible, contribution the Chief made to our United States Air Force," said Felch. "I am dedicated to continuing his legacy of educating our enlisted Airmen, preparing them to supervise and lead, and teaching them about service and sacrifice."

Today, the Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center operates the largest Noncommissioned Officer Academy in the United States Air Force. More than 2,200 enlisted members attend courses here each year at its Airman Leadership School, Noncommissioned Officer Academy and satellite version of each course.

It was named in honor of Chief Lankford in a special ceremony held on Dec. 16, 2008 at Wilson Hall on the campus of The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center. It was held in conjunction with the graduation ceremony of both Airman Leadership School and NCO Academy classes 2008-2. More than 400 guests including wing commanders, state command chief master sergeants, friends and family from across the country attended.

The American Ex-Prisoners of War is a not-for-profit, Congressionally-chartered, veterans' service organization representing former prisoners of war and their families. It was established on April 14, 1942 as the Bataan Relief Organization by two mothers in New Mexico whose sons were being held captive by Japan. Its name was later changed to the American Ex-Prisoners of War so all former prisoners of war and their families would be eligible for membership. Today, every state has an active chapter.