Today is National POW/MIA Remembrance Day in America. Theoretically, we should be gathering together as a country and mourning our losses from wars past: individuals who fought for our freedom but were never granted their right to come home from our nation’s enemies’ soil. Today, we should be renewing the promise we made to them when they enlisted: that they would never be left behind.
How many of us think of the meaning behind those words when we say them: “no man left behind”? Do we truly understand what we’re saying when we use the phrase? That we’re referencing one of the most highly regarded promises rooted deeply in the tenets of our country’s Armed Forces?
Last year, my generation displayed an ignorance to this cause that made me sick. Mispronouncing the acronyms. Wondering what they even meant. Displaying the flag on their motorcycles and houses just because “it looks cool.”
Perhaps that is because POW/MIA is not something that people my age have to worry about. Science has made it nearly impossible to create a current-day “unknown” soldier, and modern warfare all but removes most human presence from certain battlefields.
But yesterday, at my activity’s POW/MIA Remembrance Program, the cause never seemed so pertinent to my identity as an American. Keeping the promise never seemed so important to me, a civilian who doesn’t even have any war vets in her family. The photos of the men brought home, the stories, the maps and the statistics never seemed so vivid, even though I had been to several similar programs before.
Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Matthew Clark assists the recovery leader map grid units while conducting recovery operations with DPMO. Click for source.
Let me share with you a touching story shared by our guest speaker, Col Ward Nickisch, USA retired. Several years ago, Nickisch had the opportunity to be involved in a case involving a man who went missing somewhere in Southeast Asia. After fifty-two years of time spent in foreign soil, this man’s remains were brought home to America… to his never-remarried widow of fifty-two years.
For that long, this woman held on to the hope that her husband would be brought home to her. Every day, she prayed. Every single day, she thought of her husband, missed him, wished for him to come home. She wept for him at first, hoping for his safety, but eventually she realized that if he did come home, it wouldn’t be alive.
So her hope slowly changed. Fifty-two years after her husband had gone missing, when the recovery team brought him home to her, she wept again. She was so overjoyed that her NEW hope would be fulfilled — truly, at the end of it all, she wept from happiness that she could definitively be buried with the love of her life.
Before yesterday, that kind of love existed only in the movies. That level of pain existed only in books. But now, it has been brought home to me that too many people in America are experiencing the travesty of not knowing where their loved ones are, not feeling like their loved ones are safe, unable to get closure on their losses.
Over 80,000 Americans are POW/MIA. Every day, organizations like Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and JPAC work to get that number down. They track down eyewitnesses in foreign countries, drop mannequins off of cliffsides to find locations of remains, dig so deep into rice paddies to find aircraft that the sides of the hole have to be fortified 10+ times as they dig deeper, and spend over 240 days each year away from their families to accomplish the mission.
And yet people back home in my generation, military or civilian, remain either unknowing or uncaring. No, not many of us have experienced the sadness of being forced to leave a comrade behind in enemy soil, of knowing a brother-in-arms who dropped off the face of the earth without a trace. Not many of us have had to experience the slow death of hope as each day passes without word of their existence.
But we devote so much time and energy into finding missing persons on our own soil. We create TV shows and movies and spend weeks watching the trials of kidnappers on the news.
So I question why I have yet to hear the story of a brave Korean War vet who became MIA… I wonder why no one knows about the return trip of 19 Marines who sacrificed their lives during WWII on Butaritari Island… Why there is no strong emphasis in our culture on the courage and strength of these men and the importance of bringing them home to their families.
The presentation I watched and listened to yesterday was arguably one of the most moving and eye-opening Veterans ceremonies I have attended in my almost three-year tenure at my activity. Unfortunately, it was quite poorly attended.
Today is National POW/MIA Remembrance Day. As they say during the Missing Man Table and Honors ceremony, “Freedom has a taste to it that those who haven’t fought for it will never know. Let us always remember, and never forget.”