Hundreds of soldiers, veterans and family members gathered Friday evening outside the Fort Stewart Museum’s Vietnam Memorial to remember America’s Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action.
According to timeanddate.com, POW/MIA Recognition Day has been observed on the third Friday in September since 1986. It first was observed in 1979.
Sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 789, the annual event on Fort Stewart honors those held prisoner during all U.S. wars and those still missing in action from those wars. More than 1,700 service members still are missing from the Vietnam War alone, according to www.veteranshour.com.
VVA Chapter 789 President Retired Sgt. Maj. Adna R. Chaffee served as master of ceremonies with Col. John Hort, 3rd Infantry Division deputy commanding general-rear, serving as the guest speaker.
Static displays surrounding the ceremony site — including a Vietnam War Killed in Action monument, a POW/MIA Table of Remembrance and the POW/MIA flag — reminded guests of the ceremony’s solemnity.
Before Hort’s remarks, VVA member Paul Spence read a poem titled “They answered the call,” which he wrote three years ago especially for the occasion. Staff Sgt. Michael Leonard Jr. later read a narrative explaining the Table of Remembrance, which consists of a white tablecloth, a red rose, a red ribbon, a lit candle, a slice of lemon and salt on a plate, an inverted glass, a Bible and an empty chair.
“We have some great symbols in our society that remind us we still have soldiers missing,” Hort said as he listed the symbols on display. “The POW/MIA flag is the only flag other than the national flag to fly above the White House.”
He talked at length about another POW/MIA symbol, the POW/MIA bracelet. Hort said his mother bought one in 1971 that represented then-POW Maj. Raymond Schrump. A few years later, Hort said, his family moved to Fort Bragg, N.C., and happened to live in the house where Schrump had lived after returning from the war and POW imprisonment.
Hort said Schrump retired a lieutenant colonel in 1973 and still lives in the Fort Bragg area. He said he’s planning a trip next month to Fayetteville, N.C., where he hopes to meet Schrump and return the POW/MIA bracelet his family has kept in his honor for 41 years.
“We can never address or express our appreciation for those who served (as POWs or who are still MIAs),” he said.
After Hort spoke, members of VVA Chapter 789 took turns reading aloud the names of Georgia’s POW/MIAs. A brass bell rang after each name was recited. At the list’s conclusion, a lone bugler situated behind the UH-1H “chopper” that serves as the centerpiece for the Vietnam Memorial began a mournful rendition of Taps.
As they did when the national anthem was played earlier, all present stood at attention and saluted those who were POWs, those who still are MIA and the families who continue to grieve for them.
Army Reserve Ambassador Lou Carreras then read a narrative titled “Until We are Reunited.” Benediction was given and the ceremony concluded.
“We at the Vietnam Veterans of America have done a lot of work with homeless veterans,” Chaffee said after the ceremony. “We’ve recently taken upon ourselves to help the widow of a Vietnam veteran. And as you may know, Hinesville is planning to have a veterans memorial at Bryant Commons. We’ve already donated $500 toward building it.”
Chaffee, who is a fourth-generation soldier, served 30 years in the Army, with 30 months of that service in Vietnam. He admitted he has a tough time visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.