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​Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh delivers an address at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., commemorating the shootdown of the first US airman taken prisoner during the Vietnam War, March 2, 2015. Staff photo by Arie Church

​A lone B-52 passed over the Air Force Memorial on Monday on the 50th anniversary of the shootdown of the first airman taken prisoner during the Vietnam War. "Fifty years ago today, the United States kicked off Operation Rolling Thunder, led by a B-52 assault," said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh before laying a wreath in honor of the service's prisoners of war during the March 2 ceremony in Arlington, Va. "The US would also lose more than 1,000 aircraft in that campaign," including the F-100 of pilot 1st Lt. Hayden Lockhart, said Welsh. "He was the first Air Force prisoner of the Vietnam conflict and would remain a prisoner until his release on Feb. 12, 1973, nearly eight years later," noted Welsh. In addition to the 566 airmen held prisoner during the conflict, another 512 airmen went missing in action. "Imagine that there is no joyful reunion, no tearful hug. Nothing but a deep, dark hole in your heart where love somehow lives on," said Welsh, addressing the audience of former POWs, their families, airmen, and officials. Welsh charged today's airmen to pledge themselves "to making those great airmen as proud of us as we are of them." (See also the Air Force's release.) (To understand the bravery and endurance of US POWs in Vietnam, read Honor Bound from Air Force Magazine's archives.)