GALLIPOLIS — Next to Veterans Day or Memorial Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day is a holiday that many Americans may not be aware of, but the third Friday of each September, veterans across the county pause to remember over 83,000 of their comrades that remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Iraq and other conflicts.
During a solemn ceremony organized by the Gallia County chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America and held in the Gallipolis City Park on Friday, a small group of community members gathered to recognize the sacrifices of the nation’s prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action and their families.
Along with Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day is one of six days throughout the year that Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag over military installations, government buildings, national cemeteries and memorials.
During Friday’s ceremony — the third annual event of its kind in Gallia County — the black and white POW/MIA flag was lifted above the city park and over the POW/MIA empty chair set before a dinner table that signifies the thousands of Americans who remain unaccounted for from all the wars and conflicts involving the United States.
Commander William Mangus of the VFW Post #4464 of Gallipolis served as the speaker during the ceremony and provided the crowd with a brief history of the treatment of prisoners of war since World War I and the expense the United States now takes to recover those individuals who still remain missing.
According to Mangus, possibly the most significant time period that exists in this history of POW/MIAs is the Vietnam War.
“The Vietnam War is significant because it established the promise that all possible measures would be taken to recover the POWs and MIAs and their remains or to provide explanation if this is not possible,” Mangus said. “The POW/MIA bracelet, the POW/MIA table and flag become symbols [during this period] of the fullest possible accounting of our comrades.”
Mangus also honored known local WWII prisoners of war, as well soldiers of Gallia County who remain missing in action from World War II.
The following is the list of names read by Mangus:
• 1st Lt. Justin Daily, a bombardier on a B-24, was shot down on April 16, 1944.
• Sgt. Silas Hamilton, 179th Infantry Regiment, Company D, was captured on February 11, 1944, and escaped on February 17, 1944.
• Sgt. John J. Jeffers, a flight engineer on a B-17, was released as a POW on May 2, 1945.
• Pvt. Robert O. Wiseman, “Big Red One” (1st Infantry Division), was captured on November 30, 1944, and was released in May 1945.
• Sgt. William F. Betz, 15th Air Force Division, 376th Bomber Group, 512th Squadron, was a ball turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator and was captured on July 3, 1944, and released on September 13, 1944.
• 2nd Lt. William W. Lambert, 8th Air Force Division of the U.S. Army Air Corps, 26th Bomber Group, was a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress and was shot down on December 21, 1943.
• Albert Monroe Sheets, 36th Infantry Division, was a POW for 22 months.
• PFC Dingus Banks, 28th Division, 110th Infantry, Company A, was captured on November 12, 1944, and released on May 5, 1945.
Mangus also read, during his presentation, a list of Gallia County’s fallen heroes of the Vietnam War, they are: Russell Hamilton, John O. Finnicum, Charles Neal, Wendell Hickman, Russell Blanton, Archie Hayman, Paul Yost, Cecil Matthew, Jr., Leslie Brucker, Roger Hawley, Fred Mooney, Albert Lee, Kevin Griffin and Richard Criner.
“Let us not forget what this day represents,” Mangus said.
Also to speak during the ceremony was the Rev. John Jackson who provided a closing prayer.
Serving as master of ceremonies was Jim Cozza, who represented Gallia County Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 709. He provided a closing statement for the event.
“This is a lot of think about and a lot to digest. It’s very serious business, and we pray that the government continues to search for those who are missing or may be prisoners of war so those families who have lived years and years with not knowing can have some closure and finally have some peace,” Cozza said.
The following information concerning POW/MIAs is provided by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO):
A total 73,681 soldiers remain unaccounted for from WWII. A total of 16 million Americans served in WWII and, of those, more than 400,000 died during the war. At the end if the war in 1945, 79,000 Americans were unaccounted for, including those buried with honor as unknowns, officially buried at sea, lost at sea and missing in action.
A total of 7,946 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. While some remains have been returned to the United States since the conflict from 1950-1953, the U.S. government continues to pursue opportunities to gain access to sites within North Korea and South Korea to uncover the remaining Americans who are unaccounted for from that conflict.
Since 1973, the remains of more than 900 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial, and, while joint field activities between the U.S., Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia continue in an effort to recover the missing Americans, a total of 1,655 Americans are still unaccounted for from that conflict.
The Cold War era left a total of 126 service members unaccounted for. These service personnel worked to contain the threat of communist expansion and collected intelligence on the Soviet Bloc, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea during the Cold War.
A total of six American remain missing from what is known as the Iraq Theater — the most recent conflicts involving the United States.
One American soldier remains missing from an operation known as El Dorado Canyon of 1986, while two service personnel were lost during Operation Desert Storm of 1991. Three department of defense contractors have never been recovered after they were lost during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2010.
According to the DPMO, so far this year, the remains of 49 service members who were once missing have been recovered.
For more information on POW/MIAs and missing military service personnel who have recently been accounted for, visit the DPMO website at www.dtic.mil/dpmo/.