Rev. Jesse Jackson reunites with 2 former POWs he helped free 20 years ago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Reverend Jesse Jackson reunited Saturday with two former prisoners of war who he helped free from captivity in the Balkans 20 years ago.

U.S. servicemen Andrew Ramirez, Christopher Stone and Steven Gonzales were captured March 31, 1999, while on a peacekeeping mission along the border between Kosovo and Macedonia.

"They had been in isolation for 32 days, heads covered and put someplace to drive them crazy," Jackson said.

"We took direct fire on the vehicle. We truly did not believe that once they captured us, you know, anything good was gonna happen," Ramirez said.

But it did when Jackson put together a delegation to travel to Belgrade to ask Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic to release the American soldiers. Among the citizen diplomats were reverend James Meeks and Rod Blagojevich, then an Illinois congressman and now jailed former governor of the state.

"He felt like he could add and contribute. And being a native speaker, he could help the reverend in his missions," Blagojevich's wife Patti said Saturday.

Negotiations stretched over several days as the U.S. military campaign and bombings ordered by the White House continued. Award-winning photographer John White captured those moments.

"They are brave and I will always be eternally grateful for the efforts and courage it took," Stone said of the 1999 mission to free him.

Once home, the men visited Rainbow PUSH and went to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game, just as they did Saturday to commemorate the anniversary.
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