GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Veterans and community members gathered in Gallipolis City Park to observe National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday.
The day is recognized each year on the third Friday of September to remember and honor those prisoners of war (POW) or those missing in action (MIA).
Jim Cozza opened the ceremony with the reading of a news article on the Fourth of July festivities in the early nineties. The article spoke of the 1992 Independence Day parade being led by retired Army General William Westmoreland, commander of the United States Forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968.
“He had rekindled the interest of Vietnam veterans in the county,” Cozza said. “The theme of that particular parade was, ‘welcome home to Vietnam vets,’ and with the help of a number of people, we’ve had a big showing… of Veterans and piecemeal uniforms, that assembled together up at the Duke’s Cleaners and marched down Second Avenue for the first Vietnam veteran parade. And we appreciated that so much. After that, when General Westmoreland was finished speaking, vets turned to each other and said, ‘is that all that we’re going to do? Can we get our group back together?”
Cozza said a couple of years later the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 709 was organized.
Veteran Keith Sheets spoke about his father who was a POW and the impact that time had on his father.
“Now I don’t know what these guys went through; I was there but I was blessed enough to come [home] without a scratch,” Sheets said. “My dad was incarcerated for approximately 22 months. Horrible conditions. He had been shot three times, different locations.”
Sheets said there were “quite a few stories, but they’re too sad, too heartbreaking to tell,” of what some of these men experienced.
After World War II, Sheets said 60% of those who served (including him) were volunteers because of the honorable example those before them set.
A table honoring those POW and MIA soldiers was assembled at the event, where selected veterans did a ceremony explaining the contents on the table and encouraging everyone to, “remember.”
The table held a red rose to “keep faith [while] waiting the return of comrades. The red ribbon tied around the vase are for the “red ribbons worn on the lapel.” The salt shaker is to “remind us of their bitter fate.” There is an inverted glass to remember “they cannot toast.” An empty chair sits at the table “because they are not here.”
“Remember, remember until they come home,” was read by the veteran.
The guest speaker was Army Chaplain, Pastor Col. John Jackson.
Jackson spoke of the impact of having someone loved missing or being held as a POW. He spoke of not having closure when someone does not come home. He spoke of the way large men would come out of being a POW barely weighing anything.
“We need to support these families, of people that are serving in every way we can,” Jackson said.
A rifle salute by the VFW Honor Guard closed out the ceremony.
The Presentation of colors was by VFW Post 4464 Honor Guard, Army Chaplain, Pastor Michael Geise gave the invocation and closing prayer. The singing of the national anthem and special music was by Jenny Henchey.
The ceremony was presented by Gallia County Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter #709 and Post #4464 of the Gallia County Veterans of Foreign Wars.
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Brittany Hively is a staff writer at Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (740) 444-4303 ext 2555.