June 24, 2022

Van Hollen, Cardin, Kaine, Warner Present Prisoner of War Medals to Maryland Veteran Ronald Dolecki & Virginia Veteran David Strickland

Awards follow Van Hollen legislative action to secure medals

Yesterday, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) presented Army Specialist Ronald Dolecki, a veteran residing in Huntingtown, Maryland, with a Prisoner of War (POW) Medal honoring his military service in Ethiopia. Senator Van Hollen authored a legislative provision to secure Mr. Dolecki’s medal following the Army’s misapplication of the law to his unique case. They were joined by Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) who presented a POW medal to Virginia veteran David Strickland, which he also received as a result of Senator Van Hollen’s legislative action. 

“Ron Dolecki’s story is the story of American heroism. After making a daring escape from captivity in Ethiopia, he helped save his two mission partners who were also taken prisoner. He displayed true courage in action, and after a years-long effort to award him the Prisoner of War Medal, we were finally able to secure the recognition he so clearly deserves,” said Senator Van Hollen. “It is my honor to congratulate Ron and thank his family and friends who helped get this across the finish line.”

“We cannot overstate our gratitude for all the sacrifices made by Specialist Dolecki while serving this country. He is a hero who endured excruciating conditions while held captive,” said Senator Cardin. “It is a privilege to join in honoring Mr. Dolecki for his incredible spirit, patriotism, grit and bravery.” 

“In 1975, Army Specialist David S. Strickland was abducted while serving our nation. He spent four months in captivity, enduring ongoing physical and psychological hardships and not knowing when, or if, he would ever see his family again,” said Senator Warner. “Although this recognition is more than 46 years overdue, I’m very proud to join my colleagues in recognizing Specialist Strickland’s sacrifice with the Prisoner of War Medal he rightfully deserves.”  

“This is about fairness. The change that was made in the NDAA is not only opening up opportunities for Army Specialist David S. Strickland and Army Sergeant Ron Dolecki to be recognized with the POW medal. The change that has been made is going to enable many, many others who have long been denied to eventually see the day that they do as well. That work is already underway thanks to this effort. I know I speak for all of us: we feel honored to play a part in getting here,” said Senator Kaine. 

While on a mapping mission in Ethiopia in 1965, Mr. Dolecki was captured by armed, uniformed members of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). He suffered under brutal conditions while in captivity but eventually escaped and saved the lives of two other individuals. However, Mr. Dolecki had been denied the POW Medal for more than a decade even after Congress passed a law in 2013 to clarify the criteria for the honor. Upon learning of this issue, Senator Van Hollen took legislative action – including writing twice to the Secretary of the Army and passing report language accompanying the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to help ensure the accurate application of the law in order to secure Mr. Dolecki’s medal. Mr. Dolecki’s POW medal award was approved in March 2022, as was a medal for the late Jack Kalmbach, who served as Mr. Dolecki’s pilot on the mission. The awards follow many years of advocacy from Mr. Dolecki, Dr. Dwight Mears, and the Senator to secure the honor.Mr. Strickland was taken captive by the ELF in 1975 under substantially similar circumstances as Mr. Dolecki but had also been denied consideration for the POW Medal for years until Senator Van Hollen’s action.

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High resolution photos and video are available upon request.

Photo 1: Senators Van Hollen and Cardin with the Dolecki family after presenting Mr. Dolecki with his POW Medal.

Photo 2: Senators Warner and Kaine with the Strickland family after presenting Mr. Strickland with his POW Medal.