Sept. 17 is National POW/MIA Day. It is the day we honor those military personnel who have been prisoners of war (POW) and those missing in action (MIA). It is a day that illustrates the stark reality of the sacrifices that our brave men and women, and their families, have endured in defense of this country.
Most of the places that held American POWs are now gone. In recent times there have been no POWs reported. It is believed that Bowie Bergdahl was the last one. But, his is a unique case. He deserted his post and was captured by the Taliban and held captive for five years. He was released in exchange for the four terrorist that were confined in Guantanamo Bay prison. These four terrorist are now among the leadership in the Afghanistan government controlled by the Taliban.
But, not having recent POWs should not change our obligation to remember and pay tribute to those who suffered beatings, starvation, rape and torture. Thousands died while in captivity. Many who came home would require years of mental and physical rehabilitation.
For the families of those MIA there has never been closure. But, there has always been hope. There are estimated to be over 80,000 American service members MIA. Approximately 40,000 are deep sea losses.
To bring some closure to families of those missing in action, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) works tirelessly to find and identify the remains of those unaccounted from past wars and locations around the world. Sifting through remains from recovery sites, going through records, and DNA results, the forensic anthropologists, archeologists and forensic dentist, spend months and years to accomplish their mission, “it’s about bringing more people home” says Admiral Jon C. Kreitz , deputy director of DPAA. Through their efforts the remains of more than 1,800 Americans have been identified and returned to their home towns for their final rest.
The words written across that black POW/MIA flag – You Are Not Forgotten – have real meaning to the families who suffered for years awaiting the fate of their loved ones held in a POW camp, or those who endured the anxiety of never knowing the fate of loved ones listed as MIA.
Throughout the state and across the country there will be many events and ceremonies to honor those who were POW and those MIA, such as the POW/MIA 24-hour vigil Sept. 17-18 in Metuchen.
But what of the future?
As time passes will the men and women who sacrificed so much on the altar of freedom be forgotten?
The older generation is fading away; the military is less than 1% of the population and declining; the younger generation has little sense of history or an understanding of the sacrifice and pain it took to keep this country free and enduring; the millions of immigrants, both legal and illegal, have no link to American history; and there are those who just don’t care.
However, as long as there are those who understand that freedom is not free, who appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women in the military who give so much, and those who remember that “all gave some and some gave all” – then the POWs/MIAs will not be forgotten.
Central Jersey Chapter 148 Korean War Veterans Association