Laurel American Legion hosts POW/MIA ceremony

By 
Torrey Anderson
Thursday, September 22, 2022
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A Fallen Comrade Table honors service members who did not come home from war.

A Fallen Comrade Table honors service members who did not come home from war.

Members of Laurel’s American Legion post 123 hosted a special remembrance ceremony honoring POW/MIA service members. The Thompson Park shelter was the scene for the event held this past Friday, with classes from Graff Elementary and Laurel High School in attendance. Speakers representing Senators John Tester and Steve Daines spoke to attendees, offering thanks to service members, especially those who were either taken prisoner during world conflicts or listed as missing in action. The VFW honor guard performed a three rifle volley and Taps to honor the fallen as the program closed.

In 1979, the third Friday in September was set aside as a national day of remembrance for service members listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. After the Vietnam war, families of missing service members began to demand full accountability from military organizations in seeking to understand the fates of hundreds of service members whose whereabouts were unaccounted for. The POW/ MIA remembrance honors services members from all foreign wars. During WWI, 4,120 service members were listed as prisoners of war. Out of those, 147 were reported to have died in custody, and 4, 422 were reported to be missing in action. WWII held much higher numbers, with 130,000 taken prisoner and 73, 515 missing in action. 14,000 service members were known to have perished in captivity during that conflict. The Korean War ended with 7,140 prisoners of war, with 2,700 captives dead. 7,800 Americans were listed as missing in action. 725 service members were captured in the Vietnam War, and 1,600 were reported missing. 64 American service members died in captivity during that conflict.

Since 1991, 37 service members were known prisoners of war during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Six service members are still missing in action since those engagements. 75 percent of all POW/MIA service members were reported from Asian/Pacific conflict zones, and 41,000 Americans were reported lost at sea from all listed wars and conflicts. 53 Montana service members are still missing in action, one of whom is honored with a headstone at Laurel’s Yellowstone National Cemetery. Navy bombardier Alan Ashall was listed as missing in action in 1968, after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War. No trace of Ashall or his aircraft has ever been found.

Speakers enthralled the crowd with some history surrounding the conception of the symbols used to remember our missing and imprisoned service members. The black and white POW/MIA flag that can be seen flying along our state and national flags was conceived in 1970 by Mrs. Michael Hoff, the wife of a MIA service member who disappeared during the Vietnam conflict. According to information found on pow-miafamilies.org, Hoff wanted a recognizable national symbol to honor POW/MIA service members like her husband, and reached out to Norman Rivkees, Vice President of Annin & Company, which had made a banner for the newest member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China, as part of their policy to provide flags of all United Nations member states. He and an Annin advertising agency employee, veteran WWII pilot Newt Heisley, designed a flag to represent our missing service members. In many military facilities and American Legion posts, a small table is set to honor those who did not come home. Known as a “Missing Man”or “Fallen Comrade” table, it is set for one, symbolizing the frailty and aloneness of a prisoner against their captors. The table is covered with a white cloth, representing the purity of intention to respond to the call to arms. A single red rose is placed to stand for the blood that may have been shed in sacrifice to ensure freedom, and also as a reminder of the families and friends who await their loved ones’s return. A red ribbon represents the unyielding determination to seek proper accounting of comrades who did not come home from war. A slice of lemon stands for the bitter fate of service members who are captured and held as prisoners in a foreign land and is placed near a pinch of salt that symbolizes the tears of the missing and their families. An upside down cup and an empty chair recalls the knowledge that a loved one is not present to join in a toast.

The Laurel American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars will remain committed to honoring and remembering those men and women who still remain unaccounted for at conflict’s end.

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