Not Yet Found, but Never Forgotten
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Sep 14, 2012, 13:46
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard as well as a civilian military employee place the hats associated with their roles on the table dedicated to the missing.
For thousands of Americans, MIA means more than most groupings of letters. For them, it means more than the phrase the letters stand for, ‘missing in action.’ For the families and friends of 83,000 Americans, it describes their loved ones. Their husbands, their fathers, their sons and daughters.
“For them, POW/MIA isn’t just two words on a black and white flag,” said Jim Livingston, a plans and special operations specialist at Fort Lee, while speaking at a recognition luncheon to remember the nation’s missing heroes.
At the luncheon, hosted by Fort Lee and the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, one table was reserved for those who could not be there. The places were saved for those who have not been found.
A color guard silently entered the room to place the hats worn by members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and civilian military employees by the empty seats on a table set with symbolism.
The single red rose is to remember the life of the missing. The red ribbon tied around the vase symbolizes the nation’s determination to find the missing. The slice of lemon is to remind people of the bitter fate of those captured and lost in foreign lands. The pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of those who mourn their loss.
A bible and a candle on the table represent the strength of faith and hope that the missing will return home.
The annual luncheon remembers both the absent and those who wait for them.
“We also honor the family members, the brave men and women who have kept the memories of their loved ones burning bright and those who will never stop pushing this nation and its leaders for the closure that they deserve,” said Fort Lee Garrison commander Col. Rodney Edge, who spoke at the event.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson A hat worn by an airman and the empty, inverted glass symbolizing the absence of the service members and their inability to share in the toast declared in their honor.
The iconic flag depicting the silhouette of a man bridled by barbed wire and a watch tower, was conceived of in 1971 by Mary Hoff, the wife of a missing service member.
“She developed the idea of a flag with a haunting image, designed by a WWII pilot [Newt Heisley], which would eventually become a national emblem,” Edge said. “It is the only flag, aside from old glory, that is flown above the White House.”
In 1989, the flag was installed in the Capitol rotunda as a symbol of the nation’s commitment to once again fill the empty table and the hats placed on it.
“The message inscribed across the bottom of that flag read, ‘you are not forgotten,’
Edge said. “Today, we reaffirm that sacred pledge. Once again, you are not forgotten.”
He said that the nation will continue to do whatever it can to bring every person described by the three letters, M.I.A., home.
He said that determination can’t just be in the minds of the families of the missing.
“It needs to be with all of us,” he said.
Edge also acknowledged the Prisoners of War, or POWs, who were often subjected to harsh and inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors.
“We have learned so much about war and about the courage and the honor possible in war from our former POWs,” Edge said.
Through pain and suffering, he said, they managed to maintain their strength and spirit of camaraderie, even though they frequently had to communicate secretly.
He recalled late Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, who spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, enduring torture, leg irons and solitary confinement. Edge said that one of his fellow prisoners managed to slip him a balled up piece of paper with words from the poem “Invictus,” by William Earnest Henley.
“It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
The Defense Prisoner of War, Missing Personnel Office, under the Department of Defense, continues to work to account for missing service members and civilian employees. Lt. Col. Clarence F. Blanton, Cpl. Francis J. Reimer, Cpl. Clarence H. Huff, Jr. and PFC Richard S. Gzik were all accounted for in July, 2012.