American POWs, MIA remembered with on third Friday of September with vigils, runs

American POWs, MIA remembered with on third Friday of September with vigils, runs

Bruce Hallberg holds a photo of his brother, Sgt. 1st Class Roger Hallberg, a green beret who went missing during the Vietnam War in March 1967, while his sister, Anne Hallberg, holds a photo of Bruce and Roger and herself when they were children, outside their home in Discovery Bay, California recently. Sgt. Hallberg has been missing for more than 50 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

By Rindi White

Members of our armed forces, their families and the families and loved ones of service members who are missing or who were held in Prisoner of War camps will unite this month through ceremonies, retreats, vigils and candlelight services to honor missing and captive U.S. service members.

Since World War I, more than 200,000 Americans have been listed as Prisoners of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA), according to Col. Jim Sears, 14th Flying Training Wing Commander at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, at a POW/MIA Day retreat ceremony a few years ago.

“Less than half of them were returned at the end of hostilities, leaving more than 125,000 Americans, servicemen and servicewomen, missing in action since 1914,” Sears said.

Congress instituted POW/MIA Recognition Day in 1979 with a ceremony and flyover at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Though the history of the day is filled with twists and turns, the National League of POW/MIA Families helped establish the observance on the third Friday in September. Recognition Day ceremonies are held “throughout the nation and around the world on military installations, ships at sea, state capitals, at schools, churches, national veteran and civic organizations, police and fire departments, fire stations, etc.,” according to the National League of POW/MIA Families.

“The League’s POW/MIA flag is flown, and the focus is to ensure that America remembers its responsibility to stand behind those who serve our nation and do everything possible to account for those who do not return,” the League states.

According to the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 83,000 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the Gulf Wars or other conflicts. Three-quarters are missing in the Asia-Pacific, and more than 41,000 are presumed lost at sea.

How does one commemorate an open wound that is a missing colleague or co-worker who may be jailed in some unknown, undetected facility?

State governments across the nation have passed proclamations pledging to remain vigilant in determining the status of American service members who have not yet returned home.

Some American Legion posts hold vigils lasting through the night. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a candlelight vigil is planned to honor the more than 1,600 who served in Vietnam and have not yet returned. In Clarkesville, Tennesse, the National League of POW/MIA Families will hold a four-day remembrance ceremony at which former POWs will speak and performers with the Bob Hope Tribute Canteen will strive to add levity to a solemn moment.

Many bases hold 24-hour runs in which service members carry the POW/MIA flag in shifts as they run a course — often the perimeter of the base — through the night and into the next day.

“The whole point behind this is to remember those folks who really did give it all, whether they are MIA, they were killed like those in our fallen Airman memorial or they were POWs and they endured and came back honorably,” said Master Sgt. Terry Moore, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions material section chief at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, in 2016.

Following the 24-hour run at Shaw, a remembrance ceremony was held. William Pebley, a former WWII POW shared his story and gave advice to service members.

“We’re gathered here to honor the ex-POWs and MIAs,” Pebley said. “What is the best way we can do that? Let me suggest the best way you can honor the POWs and MIAs is community service and family service. Honor them with your lives because that’s what they suffered for — to make our lives better.”

Check your local American Legion, base or chamber of commerce to learn about POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies in your area.

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