News: 'Missing Man' Ceremony Honors Prisoners of War, Missing in Action
Story by Gerry Gilmore
WASHINGTON - Dozens of people, ranging in age from teenagers to senior citizens, gathered yesterday in Occoquan, Va., to hold a "Missing Man" table ceremony in honor of the nation's service members who have been prisoners of war or are missing in action.
President Barack Obama proclaimed Sept. 18, 2009, as National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which was observed at the Pentagon and at military posts, government agencies and veterans' organizations nationwide. In Occoquan, The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7916 held their table ceremony, as they do each year.
"The POW/MIA ceremony is significant to all of us because we want to account for all of our brothers and sisters," said Wayne Dearie, the VFW post's 60-year-old commander. Dearie is a retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer who served on-shore and ashore in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972.
The ceremony features a symbolic table setting that represents the sacrifice borne by those service members who have been prisoners-of-war or still are listed as missing. About 88,000 U.S. service members are recorded as missing or unaccounted for since World War II.
A group of Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets from C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va., performed the ceremony in a small wooded park located across the street from Post 7916.
The cadets "did a wonderful job. I have never seen that particular ceremony done that well," Dearie said.
"I was very honored to be able to do this POW/MIA ceremony," said Air Force Junior ROTC Cadet Airman 1st Class Jannel Rapier, a 17-year-old member of C.D. Hylton's senior class.
"Every day I learn something new in Junior ROTC," said Rapier, who plans to become an Air Force officer when she graduates from college.
Retired Air Force Maj. Sheila Allen, the senior aerospace science instructor for C.D. Hylton's Air Force Junior ROTC program, accompanied her cadets to Occoquan to watch them perform the "Missing Man" ceremony.
Having her cadets participate in the POW/MIA ceremony "lets the young people know that we'll never forget" America's former prisoners-of-war and missing service members, Allen said.
VFW Post 7916 makes many contributions to the local community, Allen said, noting the post sponsors annual Air Force Junior ROTC awards and scholarship programs.
Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. B.J. Richardson, was also impressed by the cadets' performance of the "Missing Man" ceremony. Richardson had, in fact, "recruited" the cadets from C.D. Hylton to perform the POW/MIA ceremony. Richardson had preceded Dearie as commander of VFW Post 7916, having served thrice in that capacity.
The ceremony "brings tears to my eyes," said Richardson, 62, who'd served on river patrol duty in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
Vietnam veterans, Richardson said, had helped to bring about POW/MIA Day, starting during the waning days of the conflict.
"We still remember; they're not forgotten, he concluded.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, with its Ladies Auxiliaries organization, boasts more than 2 million members at more than 8,000 posts worldwide. Applicants for VFW membership are to be U.S. military veterans who have served overseas in a combat zone.
The VFW's origins can be traced back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service.
Today, the VFW continues to work on behalf of service members, veterans and their families. The veterans' organization also lends a hand for myriad volunteer projects, it funds college scholarships, and it has helped to establish several national war memorials.