The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 16, 2013

Former POW is featured speaker for upcoming Legacy Awards

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A former Vietnam prisoner of war, retired Air Force Col. Leon “Lee” Ellis Jr., will be featured speaker at this year’s Legacy Awards ceremony this November.

Woodring Wall of Honor Executive Director Elaine W. Johns said Ellis will be the keynote speaker during the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 event at Chisholm Trail Expo Center. Ellis also will speak the following day during the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall on Veterans Day.

Ellis was shot down on his 68th mission while flying an F4-C Phantom over Vietnam. He was captured and spent five years at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

“We’re just so excited to have a speaker of this caliber,” Johns said.

During the Vietnam War, the prison was used by the North Vietnamese army to hold prisoners of war, such as Sen. John McCain. All of the prisoners of war were released in 1973.

“I thought it would be really fitting to find a speaker that coincided with the 40th anniversary of their release,” Johns said.

She said Ellis stayed in the area of the prison, named “Little Vegas” by the prisoners, and was instrumental in communication between prisoners.

“He was the communicator. He was gutsy,” she said. “He was the one who helped with the communication between the cells. It was difficult to communicate, and they worked out their own system of raps.”

Johns said Ellis will arrive in Enid the Sunday before and give his testimony of his service during the Legacy Awards. He also will have copies of his book, “Leading with Honor,” for sale that he also will autograph.

Johns said she found Ellis online while searching for and researching others to speak at the event, including McCain.

“I ran across something on the Internet that had Mr. Ellis’ name and said, ‘Well, I’d just contact his office,’” she said. “I found out he’d been shot down in an F4-C Phantom, which is what we have on static display.”

Ellis has been honored with two Silver Stars and “numerous other” service awards, Johns said.

“I contacted him through Facebook and his office contacted me the next day,” she said. “We checked dates to see if he might be available — and he was.”

Johns said when she spoke with Ellis to see whether he would come and speak in Enid, he said, “Absolutely. I would be honored to be a part of that.”

The Legacy Awards honor local veterans from each branch of service. They will be recognized for their contributions through actions that went above and beyond the call of duty.

Honorees must be residents of Oklahoma and have been honorably discharged from their branch of service. A copy of each veteran’s DD214 form and a brief summary of the nominee’s achievements, including a description of significant accomplishments with dates, military service and a list of military awards and decorations receive by the nominee, also are needed.

Nominations will be evaluated in scope and impact of a nominee’s achievements and the extent to which his or her efforts benefit and provide inspiration to their community and other veterans.

Nominations are needed by Oct. 1 and will be judged by the Woodring Wall of Honor’s nomination committee.