By Matt Masters
Veterans, active-duty servicemen, former prisoners of war and their civilian supporters gathered Friday morning at the Wilson County Veteran’s Plaza and Museum to remember America’s prisoners of war and missing in action.
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash gave the keynote speech and issued a proclamation to honor the day in recognition of POWs and MIAs. Ash also said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto also issued a proclamation.
“To those that are still missing, we will not rest until you or your remains are returned home. To all those former POWs, we will never forget your service and sacrifice that you and your families have given to this country and for us individually,” Ash said.
Ash also invoked the memory of possibly the United States’ most famous POW, Arizona Sen. John McCain who died Aug. 25. McCain was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and held as a POW for five and a half years.
“There is a continuous effort by the United States government and activist groups like Rolling Thunder, who we heard from today and others, to bring these soldiers home, but it takes all of us to keep the pressure on until every last soldier has been accounted for,” Ash said.
Linda Yates, president of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1004, said education and recognition of the sacrifices is key to keep the history and memory of POWs and MIAs alive.
“There’s way too many POWs and MIAs unaccounted for. As we heard, there’s over 90,000 between all the different conflicts and wars, so it’s important that we remember them and work toward bringing them home,” Yates said. “This is one of the under recognized ceremony days and we wanted to make sure that it’s memorialized because of the connections to our community right here in Lebanon.
“The other part that we wanted to do today is to educate the younger generation and we are fortunate also that they publicized it in some of the schools, particularly Tuckers Crossroads, which actually did a program with their children, and we showed them the [POW/MIA] flag and explained to them the significance behind it. It’s important because it’s being forgotten. You have Bill Leslie, who in his 80s, his story is very important and those stories could be lost.”
Wilson Central JROTC cadets laid a uniformed cap on the Missing Man Table to remember those who await their honorable return home. State Rep. Clark Boyd and Dennis Guillette with the Vietnam Veterans of America participated in the roll call ceremony to remind the crowd just how many people never made it home from each of America’s engagements.
Bill Burkhart, whose father was shot down in Vietnam, spoke about the hardships of growing up not knowing if his father was alive and the challenges to find his final resting place. Burkhart said in the past year, advances were made to locate his father’s crash site, and work is ongoing to try and make more discoveries in the hope to bring his remains home.
Bill Leslie shared a unique story as a civilian POW as a child during World War II when he and several thousand people were held in a concentration camp by the Japanese while living in Manila, were they faced starvation and disease among other horrors.
Burkhart and Leslie laid a wreath in memory of those lost, provided by the American Legion Post 15.
Paul Williams with Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 1 in Middle Tennessee, an advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for the country’s POW/MIA service members, said it’s important to support those who have sacrificed so much, especially those who did not make it home through their sacrifice.
“The main tenant of Rolling Thunder is the POW/MIA issue. We want to help keep it in the forefront so that we can get as full an account as possible for all of our missing servicemen and women. Today is the National POW/MIA recognition day, and we also do things to help current active-duty servicemen and women and our veterans, including providing a motorcycle escort for anyone who asks for it during a veteran’s funeral,”
The service concluded with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.