You won’t find the day noted on any calendar, which is a national disgrace.
It ought to get equal credit with Memorial Day and Veterans Day because it is that important. But it doesn’t. Not even close.
No, Saturday’s POW/MIA Recognition Day slid right by with no more than a handful of people taking notice along the streets of Twin Lakes.
The stillness was deafening as members of all branches of the military wound through the streets for the 26th Annual Wisconsin American Legion POW/MIA Silent March, last hosted in 1991 by the American Legion District 1 Post 544. The march coincided with National POW/MIA Recognition Day to commemorate America’s past patriots still missing in action and those who safely returned home from the hands of the enemy. But it was also a day for today’s Airmen, Sailors, Soldier and Marines who continue serving.
People like former WWII POW Bill Hamblin who was held seven months before his release and considers himself fortunate to have made it home alive. He remembers what day it was and can remember all the buddies who were tortured, starved, and died in those POW camps and on the death marches. Even at 90 years old, Hamblin never forgets what it felt like to be really hungry.
“You think you know what it is like to feel hungry, but you don’t,” he said, while sharing his story with State Senator Bob Wirch, “Be a POW and then, you will truly know hunger.”
A table draped with a white tablecloth, five place settings, and five empty chairs sat in a place of honor during the ceremony at Legion Park. The five chairs represented the five branches of the military and symbolized missing service members.
The White tablecloth symbolizes the purity of the soldier’s intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms, explained Cal Johnson, 1st District Commander.
“The single Red-Rose displayed in a crystal vase reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in arms who keep the faith awaiting their return,” he said. “There is no bread on the bread plate, but there is a slice of lemon which reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt spread over the lemon is symbolic of the families’ tears as they wait. The empty glasses remind us of the dryness of their lips, and their chair is bare as their feet are bare. This table reminds us of the indomitable spirit of America. We remember their service.”
The day was achingly beautiful, described Immediate Past State Commander David Kurtz who reminded the audience of veterans, active military, state and local officials and the community that while the American Flag draped across Lance Drive brought tears of pride to his eyes, it was a stark reminder of the past thrust into the present.
“Not along ago an Army convoy was hijacked in Iraq on a routine, supposedly safe journey,” he said. “Americans were faced with its first POW in the 21st Century. Jessica Lynch captured attention and brought young adults into uncharted territory while bringing a heartbreaking reminder to Americans about past POW/MIAs.”
A shocking 88,000 American Soldiers are still unaccounted for from past wars, and 1754 are unaccounted for from Vietnam. A full 90 percent of those 1754 soldiers are missing in action in territories controlled by the Vietnamese Government.
“The American Legion is dedicated to identifying and spotlighting the need for full accountability and return of missing American soldiers to their families,” he said. “All Americans must not forget their sacrifice and their families sacrifices.”
While the American Legion is dedicated to reclaiming America’s war heroes, many veterans and families of MIAs believe that the government has done too little to help find those who are missing.
“When a child is lost, Amber Alerts go out and the country does everything possible to search for that child-but it isn’t the same for our American soldiers” said Kurtz, “When we are serving in war, we are told never to leave our comrades behind. We expect our United States Government to do the same and to resolve this. We will never forget.”