Friday, Sept. 20, will be National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the United States. The event is on every third Friday in September.
For most people, this will simply be another Friday. The last day of the work week. For families who still don’t know what happened to loved ones lost during war time, it is a sober occasion. It is also a time to make the rest of us aware that there are still soldiers who still have not returned home.
As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I was able to cover an event organized by veterans to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Even though the Vietnam War ended several decades before, I met people who still had no idea if their soldier was still alive or not. They came because they still cared and wanted to make sure others could see how important it was to them that they finally learn what happened to their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers.
The number of soldiers who are still unaccounted for is startling. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, we still don’t know what happened to more than 1,640 members of our armed forces who went missing during the Vietnam War. There are still more than 73,000 missing from World War II and more than 7,900 from the Korean War. When you include those who are missing from the cold war and the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there are more than 83,300 who are still missing in action or prisoners of war.
The ceremony I attended was in Dixon, Illinois and it was a few weeks before Christmas. A table covered with a white table cloth was set for four to represent the personnel from the army, marines, navy and air force. Candles were handed out and lit. We all sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Tears easily flowed from my eyes as I scanned the faces of those attending who were there to remember someone who had never returned.
Even though it has been more than 10 years since I covered the event, I can still see the yearning in the faces of those who simply wanted to know what happened to their family member. The pain and yearning to understand hit me so hard that I could feel what they were going through. I wish them peace and hope that someday they will learn the truth.
If you have a family member who is still missing in action, may God’s peace be with you. I just want you to know that I will never forget.