The names of the 82,000 American service members who are still missing in action were read by hundreds of volunteers who participated in the 24-hour POW/MIA Remembrance event held each year on National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 through a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter. Since then, each subsequent president has issued an annual proclamation commemorating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
Members of Team Whiteman, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, ran, walked and rucked for 24 hours to honor and remember prisoners of war and those missing in action by carrying the flag as they completed laps around the Ike Skelton Lake.
“For the next 24 hours, I hope that everybody who is part of this takes some time to really reflect,” said Col. Jeffrey Schreiner, 509th Bomb Wing commander said at the Sept. 17-18 event at Whiteman AFB. “Reflect on what we have, reflect on the history and the sacrifices that have been made over the years, reflect on the people that didn’t come back.”
Master Sgt. Eric Whipple, 509th Comptroller Squadron financial analyst flight chief at Whiteman AFB, said: “The flag symbolizes the United States’ resolve to never forget POWs or those who served their country in conflicts and are still missing.”
The event was a success, despite the ongoing pandemic:“COVID can’t stop some things,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kathleen McCool, 509th Bomb Wing Command Chief at Whiteman AFB. “It might make it a little bit different, but COVID cannot stop everything and this is one thing that COVID could not stop.”
Following the event McCool thanked the coordinators for their hard work putting the event together and making it succeed despite challenges presented by the COVID safety concerns.
At Naval Air Station Pensacola, more than 300 U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps service members attended the Vigil Run opening ceremony, with several of those service members volunteering to walk or run circuits of the courtyard from 3 p.m. Sept. 20 through 3 p.m. Sept. 21, taking shifts in an effort to keep the POW/MIA flag in motion for the 24-hour event.
359th Training Squadron Instructor Tech. Sgt. Matthew Barnes said the event creates awareness of the nearly 131,000 U.S. service members who have been classified as prisoners of war, as well as the 82,000 still missing in action, to ensure the memories of sacrifices made by service members from years past are not forgotten.
“Prisoners of War are held captive 24-hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said. “This is not a well-known day that we recognize every year, and we wanted to start this run today [Sept. 20] and continue it for 24 hours to symbolize the vigilance and courage those POWs must have had daily while held in captivity.”
Guest speakers at the Pensacola event included former POW U.S. Navy Capt. (ret.) Robert Doremus, a radar intercept officer who spent nearly 2,800 days in captivity in Vietnam and was released from captivity during Operation Homecoming on Feb. 12, 1973. Doremus was forced to eject from his McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II over North Vietnam on Aug. 24, 1965.
“The whole time we were there, we were joint forces. We had Marines, we had Air Force, we had Navy – enlisted and officer – and there were some civilians,” he said. “You followed your creed and you became part of a team. And the whole idea is that of the ‘team,’ and that’s what it looks like out there when you see these troops running, marching, and standing at attention – they’re a team. That’s how it works, and that’s how it worked in prison.”
NAS Pensacola Command Master Chief Mario Rivers said: “No matter the uniform that you wear, we’re all brothers in arms and we could all be put in harm’s way.”
“Here at NAS Pensacola we’re joint – one team, one effort, and that’s something we try to stress no matter if you’re Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. There’s a rich history in our country who went to the front lines and served their country honorably. It’s incumbent on us as leaders to ensure that we keep that legacy alive for years to come.”