• 39°

Ceremony remembers POW/MIA

Area officials, members of the community and representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7059 and American Legion Post 32 gathered to honor and remember Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (MIA) through a ceremony held Friday outside the Prince Edward County Courthouse.

Those in attendance included Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates, Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett, Farmville Police Chief A.Q. “Andy” Ellington and Craig Guthrie, chief ranger with High Bridge State Park.

Post Commander Fred Hill said currently, approximately 83,000 American military service members are classified as missing or unaccounted since the beginning of World War II.

“83,000 military and civilian men and women, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters,” Hill said. “World War II ended 70 years ago, lasting less than four years, and claimed more than 400,000 American lives.”

As of last month, Hill said, more than 70,000 Americans remain missing in action from WWII.

The Korean War and the Vietnam War resulted in more than 35,000 and more than 58,000 American deaths respectively. More than 7,000 were taken captive during the Korean War and more than 700 during the Vietnam War. More than 7,000 remain missing from the Korean War.

Though Hill said in recent months it’s believed 51 of those missing in action in the Korean War have been returned to the United States.

There were 126 Americans missing from the Cold War, and three military pilots and three defense department contractors missing from operations El Dorado Canyon over Libya in 1986 and Desert Storm in 1991. Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2003-2010 has three listed as missing on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an agency within the United States Department of Defense.

“Personally I cannot imagine the loss I would feel if my mother or father had gone to war and didn’t return,” Hill said, “and I can’t imagine my grief if that person was my son or my daughter. This is what MIA families have to endure day in and day out. They want answers. They want to know what happened.”

“Today our nation reaffirms its commitment to achieve the fullest possible accounting of those who did not come home,” Hill said. “We must do our part to remember their service and sacrifices. We must teach Americans about World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, places like Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Teach them stories of an America that rose to greatness on the shoulders of ordinary citizens who refused to shirk the responsibility of their citizenship, some of whom paid the highest price to help preserve peace and freedom for others.”

Hill noted the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s work to recover those who had been missing in action or prisoners of war.

Senior Vice Commander with the VFW post, Stephen Wray, stood next to a table that included a red flower, and a candle that Wray lit during the ceremony.

Wray said the table, set for one, was meant to represent the inability of POWs and those MIA to be with their families and friends. The red flower represented blood service members sacrificed. The candle was meant to be a symbol of hope that sustained prisoners of war during their imprisonment and eventual return to the United States.

“We join together to pay our humble tribute to them,” Wray said about MIA service members, “and bear witness to their continued absence.”

Bartlett attended the ceremony and said afterward he was glad the ceremony was located by the other monuments near the courthouse that remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country.

“(It’s a) very appropriate place to hold that right there by our monuments that honor the men and women who did the ultimate sacrifice to our nation in times of war,” Bartlett said. “Therefore identifying those POWs and MIAs that occurred during those same periods. It’s appropriate for that space, and we’re proud to host that on our lawn.”

Spates said having a ceremony to remember MIAs or POWs was important for the community to have.

“I think it was good to remember those that are missing, still missing in action,” Spates said of the event. “I think it was an appropriate ceremony to have.”

American Legion Post 32 member Dan Pempel said a developer helping to build a monument honoring those who died in World War I came later Friday and made sure the structure would match the existing structures in front of the courthouse that include a monument honoring those in the area who died during WWII and in conflicts after WWII, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Hill said he was glad for the turnout and said there were more people present this year than in recent years.

VFW Auxiliary member Pat Baldwin said the ceremony is necessary to keep prisoners of war, those missing in action and their families in the community’s thoughts.

“I think it’s most important that we always remember those missing in action and those POWS,” Baldwin said, “and that we make every effort to find those missing and bring them back to the United States and to their families.”