A small crowd gathered at the POW/MIA Sentinel Memorial Fountain on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Seaplane Base Friday to honor more than 83,000 U.S. servicemen and women still missing in action from conflicts dating back to World War II.
More than 100 members of the Patriot Guard Riders roared up the hill on motorcycles before the ceremony began, having participated in a road rally in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Several of them stood in formation with flags during the ceremony. A light drizzle gave way to a light mist, eventually dissipating as the low-hanging clouds lightened as the service went on.
The man who organized the event, Cmdr. Brian Danielson, was called away for duty so Cmdr. Lee Jackson, with Electronic Attack Wing Pacific (CVWP) stepped in to read Danielson’s remarks.
“This day means many things to many people,” read Jackson, listing off the numbers of people still missing from World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, through the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
“Each of these numbers represents a person and a family waiting to welcome their loved ones home,” said Jackson, reminding everyone to remember Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a prisoner of war since June 30, 2009, when he was captured in Afghanistan by members of the Haqqani network.
The work to find and identify the remains of America’s missing in action is a mission that continues today.
“As we speak, members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command spend months away from their families as they continue their work to locate our missing, work that will continue until they are home,” Jackson said.
The work and the commitment of the Patriot Guard Riders was also acknowledged.
“These motorcycles, the sound of their pipes perhaps less intrusive than the sound of aircraft engines we’ve read so much about in the local newspaper lately, are also the sound of freedom,” said Jackson. “It reminds us all that we honor our contract with soldiers.”
Ben Danielson, son of Cmdr. Danielson, read a proclamation from President Obama, then read the names of the missing whose remains have been found, identified and repatriated over the past year. With each name, a member of the Oak Harbor High School Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps rang the bell.
“This may be the only welcome home some of these people will get,” Jackson said.
NJROTC members raised the POW/MIA flag and an NAS Whidbey Honor Guard performed a 21 gun salute. “Taps” was played by members of the Oak Harbor High School Band. A closing benediction by Cmdr. Daniel Link brought the quiet, thoughtful memorial service to an end.