By JEAN CLAVETTE GRAVES
Public affairs specialist
FORT POLK, La. — The third Friday in September was established as National POW/MIA Recognition day in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Remembrance ceremonies and events held across the country honor service members who were held captive and returned as well as those who remain missing. The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency accounts for all missing service members from past conflicts to include rescue, recovery and reintegration of missing personnel for their families and the nation.
The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Soldiers and leaders attended and participated in three community remembrance ceremonies on Sep. 18.
The Village of Anacoco hosted a POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony at 10 a.m. in Veterans Memorial Park. The 317th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division provided a color guard, and Col. Duane M. Patin, installation chief of staff, was the keynote speaker for the event.
Patin’s remarks focused on his connection to the community and their exceptional patriotism as he remembered Sgt. James Edward Martin. Martin, an Anacoco native, was classified as missing in 1950 during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Korea, and was repatriated in 2016. Patin shared his connection with Martin as a fellow veteran of the 31st Infantry Regiment.
“I found it very interesting that Sergeant Martin, who was missing for 65 years, fought in the same regiment as I did,” he said “I’m glad that Sergeant Martin was returned home and is no longer missing in action. During my tenure with the 31st Infantry Regiment, we were privileged to meet many veterans of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and I’m proud to share this military lineage with him.”
Jesse Campos, adjutant, Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 727, organized the Anacoco POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony. He said it is important citizens never forget those missing in action and bring them home.
“It’s important to remember and continue to search for every person classified as missing in action. We can never forget. These servicemen took, lived and died by the oath to defend the Constitution of the Unites States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They have sacrificed for our freedom and our peace. They sacrificed everything for us, we must always remember that,” said Campos.
A 24-hour vigil remembering the 24 service members from Louisiana who are still missing kicked off with a 5 p.m. ceremony at the Deridder POW/MIA memorial.
Sonja Lambert, president, Cole-Miers Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3619 Auxiliary, organized the event and has advocated and raised awareness about POW/MIA issues for more than 50 years.
Lambert started her mission for the families of POW/MIA during her junior year at Deridder High School. She said her class learned about the Freedom Tree that was dedicated on May 6, 1973, at the Medal of Honor Grove in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, by the National League of POW/MIA Families. The League was established in 1969 to advocate for the captured and missing in Southeast Asia. She said her class decided to support the project and she continues working to ensure no one forgets the Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are still missing.
“It is our duty to bring back every missing service member. They deserve to be laid to rest in the land that they fought and died for. We stand vigil for 24 hours and will ring the bell and read the biography of each Louisiana serviceman still missing. This is a small sacrifice for what they gave us,” Lambert said.
During the ceremony in Deridder, 24 empty chairs represented each missing service member. As their names were called, members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, VFW Post 3619 and Auxiliary, placed a set of identification tags on the chairs and rendered honors to those missing in action.
Matt West, Department of Louisiana VFW, former state commander, and current member of Post 3619 said, “As Veterans of Foreign Wars, we must honor those that did not return, or are still considered missing. It is said that a service member experiences two deaths: The first is physical death, and the second is when they are forgotten.”
In Leesville at 6 p.m., VFW “Old Stage” Post 3106 hosted a remembrance ceremony. Fort Polk Garrison Commander, Col. Ryan K. Roseberry along with Lt. Col. Dallas Q. Cheatham, commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse J. Clark, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div, participated in the event.
Each leader, along with local veterans, set items on a table symbolizing the service members who were not there as a narrator read the significance of each item to the attendees.
A table was set for one representing the frailty of one POW alone against his oppressors. The tablecloth was white for the purity of an individual’s response to their country’s call to arms.
A single red rose with a red ribbon tied around the vase was placed as a reminder that Families continue to wait for those missing with the unyielding determination and demand to account for every missing service member. A lit candle symbolized the upward reach of the unconquered spirit.
A slice of lemon reminded each American of their bitter fate and salt represented the tears of loved ones left behind, with an inverted glass in honor of the toast the missing could not share with those present. The chair at the table remained empty for those who have never returned.
Paula Baldwin, quartermaster for VFW Post 3106, helped organize the POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony in Leesville.
“It’s important to remember our brothers and sisters who never came home. They will never get to hug their Families, kiss their sweethearts or watch their children and grandchildren grow up. Some gave all.
“The least we can do, is remember them,” she said.