The third Friday in September (09/15/2006) is set aside as National POW/MIA Recognition Day. A day to honor the commitment and the sacrifices made by this nation's Prisoners Of War, those who are still Missing In Action, and their families. This has been the case since 1979 -- really.
A Little History Surrounding POW/MIA Recognition Day
Until July 18, 1979, no commemoration was held to honor America's POW/MIAs, those returned and those still missing and unaccounted for from our nation's wars. That year, resolutions were passed in the Congress and a national ceremony was held at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day legislation was introduced yearly, until 1995 when it was deemed by Congress that legislation designating special commemorative days would no longer be considered by Congress. The President now signs a proclamation each year.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremonies are now held throughout the nation and around the world on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, at schools, churches, national veteran and civic organizations, police and fire departments, fire stations, etc. The POW/MIA flag is flown, and the focus is to ensure that America remembers its responsibility to stand behind those who serve our nation and do everything possible to account for those who do not return.
And Some Facts Concerning POWs and MIAs
Records show that 142,246 Americans were captured and interned during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Somalia and Kosovo conflicts, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Of the 125,214 Americans surviving captivity, about 29,350 were estimated to be alive as of the end of 2005.
More than 78,000 Americans are unaccounted for from WWII, more than 8,100 American servicemen from the Korean War, and at the end of the Vietnam War, there reportedly were 2,583 unaccounted for American prisoners; missing, or killed in action with their body not recovered.
As of September 1, 2006, 1,798 Americans are still so listed by the Defense Department, over 90% of them in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia where Vietnamese forces operated during that war. 126 Americans are still listed as missing in action and unaccounted-for from the Cold War.
A POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony
There are many versions. They vary in detail as much as they all are the same. Here is one.
As you entered the area, you may have noticed a table at the front, raised to call your attention to its purpose -- it is reserved to honor our missing loved comrades.
Set for six, the empty places represent our men missing from each of the five services -- Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard -- and civilians. This Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit.
Some here were very young when the Vietnam War began; however, all Americans should never forget our brave men and women who answered our nation's call and served the cause of freedom in a special way.
As the Honor Guard places one of the five service covers or a civilian cap on each empty plate, I would like to ask you to consider their sacrifices, followed by a moment of silent prayer.
(In silence or with dignified, reverent music as background, the Honor Guard moves into position around the table and simultaneously places one of the service covers, of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, or a civilian hat, on each empty dinner plate at each table setting. The Honor Guard then departs.)
I would like to explain the meaning of the items on this special table.
The table is round - to show our everlasting concern for our men still missing. Remember.
The cloth is white - symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. Remember.
The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith, awaiting answers. Remember.
The red, white and blue ribbon is tied to the flower vase by a yellow ribbon that was worn by thousands who awaited their return and as a symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing. Remember.
The faded picture on the table is a reminder that they are missed very much and are remembered by their families. Remember.
The lone candle symbolizes the frailty of a prisoner alone, trying to stand up against his oppressors. Remember.
The black ribbon on the candle reminds us of those who will not be coming home. Remember.
A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land. Remember.
A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers. Remember.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as -- one nation under God.
The glass is inverted - to symbolize their inability to share this evening with us.
The chairs are empty - they are missing. Remember.
As we look upon this empty table, do not remember ghosts from the past, remember our comrades.
Remember those whom we depended on in battle. They depend on us to bring them home.
Remember our friends. They are the ones we love -- who love life and freedom as we do.
They will remember what we do. Please honor and -- remember -- them.
A Prayer for After 9/11
Just the other day, Rabbi Marc Gellman (of God Squad fame) posted "A Prayer for After 9/11" (
). And while his writings were geared towards 9/11, to me it could have very well been written for all of us as we remember our POW/MIAs. Take a moment and read his full article. You might also like his "The Paper Boats of Hiroshima" (
I have taken the liberty of "exchanging" his use of "9/11" with words of my own -- it seemed fitting. Here are but a few of the words he wrote.
"In this time of bitter partisanship, America would do well to remember who its real enemies are."
"My prayer is not for [the times when our brave men and women answered our nation's call] but for after [those times -- for now and our future]. My prayer begins with sacred memory. You see, the memories of [our POW/MIAs] are not just powerful. They are sacred, and sacred memories are different from all other kinds of memory. Sacred memory is not about what we can recall from the past. Sacred memory is about what we must do for the rest of our lives because of the past."
"I have no desire to know what remembering [our POW/MIAs] might make us know. I care only for what the sacred memories of [our POW/MIAs] might make us do now and into the far future. What might that be? Above all I believe it comes down to one active and eternal commandment: we must remember the names of our enemies."
"Abraham Lincoln, at the conclusion of his first inaugural on March 4, 1861, gave voice to the American healing needed then -- which is precisely the same healing America needs now: 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.'"
"In the spirit of Lincoln, I offer this prayer for America in 2006: May the better angels of our nature help us to find each other. Together as a nation of neighbors let us prepare for the difficult days ahead in this struggle for life over death, for freedom over fanaticism and for security over fear. With a respect for dissent founded upon a common and declared patriotic unity, let us respond to the call of sacred memory. Let us speak the name of our enemies with resolve and the name of our country and all its inhabitants with a bundled love. Amen."
On this our National POW/MIA Remembrance Day I thank Rabbi Gellman for capturing an idea fit for every day in all our future years. Capturing an idea and putting it to words far better than I...
"Let us speak the name of our enemies with resolve and the name of our country and all its inhabitants with a bundled love."
Yes, Rabbi, Amen.
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt