By Heather Clark, Fort Campbell CourierSeptember 28, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- A small dining table sat in front of the Medal of Honor Rotunda at McAuliffe Hall -- headquarters for the 101st Airborne Division -- Sept. 18, 2015. Simple yet elegant, the round table was draped with a white cloth and held a single place setting.
While it might have seemed out of place in the lobby of division headquarters, the Missing Man Table was displayed at McAuliffe hall in honor of National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day, recognized each year on the third Friday of September.
Near the Missing Man Table, Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, spoke with guests gathered for the recognition day ceremony.
"We as a country make a sacred promise to the members of our armed forces who deploy to combat to defend our freedoms and our way of life," Volesky said. "That promise is to leave no one behind in combat and to honor the service and sacrifices made by our Prisoners of War and our Missing in Action. We make this promise to never leave anyone behind because service men and women fighting the enemies of our nation depend on it for inspiration and assurance."
Volesky then introduced Cindy Stonebraker, the ceremony's guest speaker. Stonebraker's father, Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Stonebraker went missing on Oct. 28, 1968, after a photo reconnaissance flight near Dong Hoi in North Vietnam.
Cindy's mother moved her Family to California to put some distance between themselves and military life as a way to keep the children protected. As such, Cindy grew up feeling alone in her loss. It wouldn't be until decades later that she began her journey of discovery with the help of organizations such as Survivor Outreach Services and Rolling Thunder, an organization that raises POW/MIA awareness.
Through Rolling Thunder, she was able to meet seven other MIA children from the Vietnam era at "The Ride Home," a POW/MIA event held in Americus, Ga.
"Getting to spend time with the military children who lost a parent basically changed my life," she said. "I got to spend time with people who understood how I felt."
The more she opens up about her experiences, the more pieces Cindy adds to the puzzle of who her father was. Through a veterans' reunion in Florida, she was able to meet with Soldiers who served alongside her father. At Arlington National Cemetery, she was able to place a memorial marker for her father.
Her appearance at Friday's ceremony was no exception.
"Every time I talk about it, another door opens," she said. "Saturday night I got home and I got an email from a man who had read an article about me in the paper. 'I went to aviator cadet school with your dad in 1967,' he said. He sent me the class roster, he sent me their graduation announcement, even their promotion announcement from when they both made 2nd Lieutenant."
Because she knows firsthand of the struggles POW/MIA Families face, Cindy has dedicated herself to helping others by serving on the board of directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families.
"A lot of people don't know that there are still more than 1,600 missing in Vietnam," she said. "Growing up, I never knew that. And I never knew that there is still an ongoing process, there are people still looking. It's been overwhelming to learn that this is still going on."