Tag Archive | "POW"

You Are Not Forgotten: MIAs, POWs

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This past Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  As stirring and painful as the ceremonies were, several media representatives raised questions concerning the length of our national memory with respect to the day that claimed so many lives while demonstrating so much courage and compassion.  One newscaster said, “Those of us of a certain age remember where we were when President Kennedy was assassinated; it’s something that stays with you.  But the younger generations know this only as a page in our history books.  It will be the same with 9/11, unless we take steps to ensure that this day is never forgotten.”

As hopeful as the newscaster was, chances are, the sting and consequences of 9/11 will one day fade from our national memory, like the proud stars and stripes fading beneath an unrelenting sun.  By and large, it is the same with the promises we made to “never forget” the POWs and MIAs of the wars in which America has been engaged.  The remembrances that have lost much of their meaning include Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, D-Day, VE Day, and VJ Day.

There is a saying, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”  What is meaningful for one generation is overshadowed in succeeding generations, and promises get lost in the passage of time.

For instance, who among us recalls the circumstances surrounding the Spanish-American War?  “Remember the Maine!” was the battle cry of that war, a paean to the USS battleship Maine sunk in Havana Harbor by Cuban extremists.  More than 253 American sailors were lost, thus precipitating the entire motto, “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” heard in the halls of Congress as we responded to the Cuban attack.

Like all wars, that one had its heroes.  These included the great Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill. Another historical conflict, Admiral Dewey’s conquest of the Philippine islands, created a hero out Captain Charles Gridley.  In 1898, in Manila Harbor, he earned a place in history when Admiral Dewey gave him the command aboard the American flagship, the USS Olympia, to “Fire when ready, Gridley!”

But more than a century later, we barely remember the Maine and Admiral Dewey’s flagship, moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

With so many war heroes lost in the mists of time, we must extend our gratitude to Assemblyman Jack Conners (Chairman, Military & Veteran Affairs), for he has kept our promise to our POWs and MIAs alive.  In fact, he has as kept it alive for the past ten years.  On the third Friday of this month, September 16, 2011, individual veterans and veteran groups of New Jersey will remember the sacrifices of our POWs and MIAs at The Merion in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.  Assemblyman Connors will host the event.

In keeping with this promise, I am sure that there are others who formally mark events in history to keep their memories alive.  I, for one, sponsor a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day at the VFW Post 2445 in Maple Shade, New Jersey.  I do this every December 7th at 11 AM, extending the invitation to all who want to remember Pearl Harbor Day, including the school children of Maple Shade learning about American history.

As I’d quoted earlier, “A promise made is a debt unpaid to our POWs and MIAs.”  Remembrance is a good thing, for sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless, lest we forget.

The Third Friday in September

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Living in today’s America places burdens upon the average citizen that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.  The demands of earning livings and raising families are significantly more stressful than in days past.  Life itself, in a world in which communications are instantaneous and constant – whether from employers, family, or friends – is much more complex.  With so much going on all the time, it is small wonder that few of us take the time to count our blessings and give thanks for the sacrifices of others that permit us to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Yet, on the third Friday in September – this year, September 17th – some will do just that.  For, on that day, Assemblyman Jack Conners, Chair of New Jersey’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will host the Ninth Annual POW/MIA Remembrance Ceremony at The Merion in Cinnaminson, NJ.

With the support of the National League of POW/MIA Families, the ceremony will begin with a seated continental breakfast starting at 8.45 AM.  Among the most solemn parts of the ceremony will be “The Missing Man Ceremony,” a moving salute to approximately 50 missing soldiers from New Jersey.  Afterwards, a number of in-person or posthumous awards will be presented to various recipient in honor of their sacrifices for our country – lest we forget.

Anticipating the typical overwhelming response to this event, invitations were sent to veterans and veteran organizations throughout the state with an RSVP by August 18, 2010.  As one who will be attending personally, I am reminded of the motto on the POW/MIA Flag – “You Are Not Forgotten.”   This, as are all promises, is a debt unpaid and has been a driving force behind the efforts of Assemblyman Conners in remembering the sacrifices of those for whom this day was dedicated.

 I would be remiss in not also bringing your attention to the government-sponsored program JPAC (Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command) whose mission is to investigate, analyze, recover, identify, and provide closure to the families of those heroes missing.  The Command, based in Hawaii, was activated October 1, 2003 from the merger of the 30-year-old U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory and the 11-year-old Joint Task Force – Full Accounting Command.  It is manned by approximately 400 hand-picked soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Department of the Navy civilians. The Central Identification Laboratory of JPAC is the largest forensic anthropology laboratory in the world.

 JPAC needs your help by donating DNA to aid them in identification of the remains found.  They can be reached toll-free at 1-866-913-1286 or by email at PAO_Mail@jpac.pacom.mil.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to men like Jack Conners that expend the time and effort in helping us remember the sacrifices of the brave souls whose actions evidence the real meaning of patriotism to those of us living in the greatest nation on the face of the earth, for sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless.


Related Post:  Bring Them Home

Bring Them Home

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Is there anything more horrific than burying a loved one felled in a war?  Perhaps. Some families of those who have fought overseas have never received closure in the form of their loved ones’ remains or even a small personal memento.  In 1947, having calculated that the whereabouts of 78,750 American soldiers remained unknown after World War II, the United States Air Force dedicated the third Friday of every September as POW/MIA Recognition Day.


Over the course of the next six decades, the number of missing warriors rose.  The Korean War claimed 8,051; Viet Nam, 1,742.  The Cold War took another 165 and the Gulf War, 7.  To date, the sole American soldier missing in Iraq is Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie.  These numbers do not include personnel killed in action and never brought home.


JPAC (Joint POW-MIA Accounting) is the governmental organization charged with the daunting task of locating, identifying, and returning to their native soil the aforementioned service men and women.  Housed in Hawaii, JPAC has been headed, since 2008, by Rear Admiral Donna L. Crisp.  Colonel John M. Sullivan serves as Deputy Commander, Johnnie E. Webb as Deputy Public Relations-Legislation Affairs, Sergeant  Major Jackie D. Brown Jr. as Command Senior Enlisted Leader, and Dr. Thomas D. Holland as Scientific Deputy Director for the Central Identification Lab.  In addition to these officers are teams dedicated to search and retrieval missions, comprising archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and deontologists.  A quick second read of those job titles is indicative of the enormity of JPAC’s objectives.


In most cases, the search for a missing person involves outside researchers as well as a perusal of the national archives and record depositories as maintained by the U.S. and foreign governments.  Veterans, external historians, private citizens, families of missing Americans, and amateur researchers also routinely provide information about cases.  JPAC experts compile the resulting  data in what is called a “loss incident case file” for each person who remains unaccounted.


During a typical investigative mission, teams interview potential witnesses, conduct on-site reconnaissance, and survey terrain for safety and logistical concerns.  All of this painstaking work often bears fruit; in many cases, investigative teams unearth new information that may help with eventual identifications. Teams operating in countries with active media outlets or a strong community network often gain new, valuable information about additional sites simply by talking with people who reside in the area. The main goal of investigative missions is to obtain enough information to correlate or connect a particular site with a missing individual.  If enough evidence is collected, a site will be recommended for recovery.


Using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in about three-quarters of the cases, the process of identifying remains is conducted at the CIL (Central Identification Lab) in the United States. All mtDNA samples are analyzed at the AFDIL (Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory) located in Rockville, Maryland.  Recovered genetic patterns are compared with genetic patterns from reference samples provided by each unidentified service member’s family.


Teeth are often the best way to identify remains because they are durable, unique to each person, and may contain surviving mtDNA.  Ideally, JPAC’s forensic deontologists will be in possession of ante-mortem (before death) X-rays to use for comparison.  Even if these X-rays do not exist, handwritten dental charts and treatment notes can be critical to the identification process.


Personal effects are a special category of material evidence. Every effort is made to recover all personal items, such as a ring, watch, or comb, from the excavation sites.  While these items aid in identification, they are also priceless keepsakes for surviving family members. Once the identification process has been completed in the lab, these personal items are returned to the loved ones.


In honor of the sacrifices made by service men and women whose remains are recovered and identified, JPAC holds an arrival ceremony with a joint service honor guard and senior officers representing each branch of the military.  Veterans, community members, and local active duty military often attend the ceremonies to pay their respects as the remains are transported from a U.S. military plane to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory.


JPAC needs your help in recovering missing personnel.  To find out if you are a possible DNA donor, please visit http://www.jpac.pacom.mil/ and click on the appropriate box.  If you prefer, you may call the organization’s international, toll-free number: 1-866-913-1286.  Or, you may email them at pao_mail@pacom.mil.


On the third Friday in September, the State of New Jersey honors its POW-MIA‘s with a breakfast sponsored by Assemblymen Jack Conners and Herb Conaway.  These public officials invite veterans from all over the state to join in a memorial ceremony dedicated to the men and women who never made it home from the wars.  Honored Guests at the 2008 event included WWII POW veteran Joseph O’Donnell, Mrs. Judith Young, who is a Past President of the “Gold Star Mothers,” Mrs. Anna Marko of Cherry Hill, an 84 year old widow of WWII POW Leon Marko, State Adjutant General Glenn Reith, Colonel Stephan Abel, and other veteran dignitaries.


As always, the event features “The Missing Man Ceremony,” a solemn and moving salute to approximately 50 missing soldiers from the Garden State.  Last year also saw the presentation of the New Jersey POW-MIA Medals to Joseph O’Donnell of Robbinsville, for his 9-month interment in Stalag Luft IV in Germany.  Joseph’s time in the camp included a forced 600-mile march that spanned 86 days.  The Assemblyman’s ceremony also presents a posthumous award to Leon Marko, who was captured in Tunisia and spent two years in a German prison camp.  Leon’s wife, Anna, accepted her husband’s award.


Assemblyman Conners (D. Burlington/Camden) is the Chairman of Military and Veteran Affairs Committee and an advocate of the National League of POW/MIA Families. With the support of veteran, business, and corporate organizations as well as that of his fellow Assemblyman Herb Conaway, the annual event to “Bring Them Home” will remain alive in New Jersey.   Thus, those who are gone are never forgotten.


The author wishes to extend special thanks to JPAC staff member Rick McKelvey for providing the vital information upon which this article is based. 

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