Annual POW/MIA Recognition Day held at Veterans Memorial Plaza
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
With technological advances and a strong commitment by the U.S. government, tens of thousands of soldiers previously listed as missing in action have been identified in the past several years. But more than 85,000 U.S. service men and women are still unaccounted for.
Every year, on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, American Legion Post 57 in Newnan hosts a POW/MIA ceremony, featuring an empty table set in remembrance of those missing and unaccounted for.
The city of Newnan and Coweta County issued proclamations for the day. Newnan Mayor Keith Brady read the city proclamation and County Commissioner Bob Blackburn read the county proclamation.
The POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever flown in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, said Jeff Carroll, commander of the Newnan Veterans of Foreign Wars post. It will stay there “until the fullest possible accounting has been achieved” for all the missing service men and women, Carroll said.
The families of the more than 85,000 men and women who are missing or unaccounted for since World War II hold a “prayerful and silent vigil, often for decades,” said Joe Brooks, a local veteran who serves on the Coweta Commission on Veterans Affairs.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command has identified hundreds in recent years, and those identifications “have brought peace and some measure of comfort to many POW and MIA families,” Brooks said.
There were, at one time, 160,000 Americans listed as missing or prisoners of war, said John Lager of the American Legion.
David Jessel explained the symbolism of the empty table.
The table is set for six, representing the five branches of the U.S. military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, with a sixth seat for American civilians, including Red Cross workers and news media.
“The table is round, to show our everlasting concern for our men still missing,” Jessel said. “The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty,” he said. “The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith awaiting answers.”
“The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing. A slice of lemon on the plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land,” Jessel said. “The salt sprinkled on the plate symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.”
“The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God,” he said. “The glass is inverted. They cannot toast with us at this time.”
There is a candle, reminiscent of the light of hope “which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home,” Jessel said. The American Flag “reminds us that many of them may never return, and have paid the supreme sacrifice to ensure our freedom.”
“The chairs are empty. They are missing,” Jessel said. “Let us pray to the supreme commander that all our comrades will soon be back within our ranks.”
The local American Legion and VFW groups have been holding the ceremony for about 15 years, said Lager, a former American Legion post commander.
Lager said he was very pleased with this year’s ceremony, especially with the number of local officials who came out, as well as members of the public.
“Because it is an important day,” Lager said. National POW/MIA Recognition Day isn’t as well-known or as well publicized as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but “to the families who still have someone missing, it’s a very important day,” Lager said.
Lager said he feels remembrance ceremonies and recognition are important in making sure that funding continues to be allocated for identifying the remains of unknown soldiers.
The local ceremony will continue “until all are accounted for,” Lager said.