Don’t forget our POWs and MIAs

I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense. (Article I, Code of Conduct.)

Well, I thought perhaps I had misunderstood the date. One of the few days on which we honor those of us who served, and those still serve as Prisoners of War (POWs), or remain Missing in Action (MIA). But no, I was correct. Sept. 16 was National POW/MIA Day.

You never would have noticed it. Very few people did. Not a line in a newspaper that I saw, not even The Navigator, the Pacific Northwest military newspaper; not a clip on the news broadcasts (TV or radio, national or local) that I heard; and no mention from the people of the community, and that was a surprise in a city like Oak Harbor with a such a large military presence.

The sacrifices of the men and women who were and are POWs, and those who still are MIA, should not have been discounted as this country wallowed in the primordial ooze of Katrina. While I know the needs of the victims of Katrina are immediate (and yes, I did donate dollars), I am appalled that the memories of so many people, and so many of the memorials to our heroes, have been neglected, even forgotten. In trying to speak with some degree of equanimity, perhaps I am being too gentle. It is deplorable.

If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. (Article III, Code of Conduct.)

Many people think that this day is meant to honor only those who were in Vietnam. It is not. It is a day that honors any person who ever was, or is, a POW or MIA in defense of our nation. As early as the Revolutionary War, there were POWs (or “criminals” as the Brits then called them): the British held many of our soldiers and sailors captive. Concerned about the treatment received, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams worked mightily and the first treaty to address the definition and status of the POW was ratified in 1785. The hard data I have, and I am sure there is earlier data, on POWs extend as far back as our Civil War:

Over 230,000 POWs, combined Union and Confederate. MIAs remain unknown.

In WW I, there were over 4,000 POWs; over 3,300 MIAs remain unknown.

In WW II, over 130,000 POWs; over 78,000 MIAs remain unknown.

In Korea, over 7,000 POWs; over 8,000 MIAs remain unknown.

In Vietnam, over 700 POWs; over 2,000 MIAs remain unknown.

In Iraq (1991), there were 23 POWs and one, Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher, USN, is listed as MIA. And in Iraq (2004), Keith Maupin, Sgt., USA is listed as a POW.

I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which make my country free. (Article VI, Code of Conduct.)

Do the math — take a look at the numbers. While not indicated here, the total U.S. troop strength in the first three wars listed above was over eight million. They went into harm’s way because most believed they were protecting our soil, our way of life, or, as Thomas Jefferson put it, our “unalienable rights.” Above and beyond the pain and misery of those who served in combat, consider the nearly half million who served, or still serve, in the hell holes or cages of any enemy; or who are buried in unknown graves in the fields, middens, or jungles of the world.

Could you have done what they did, and what some are still doing? They deserve our special thanks. Their faith and belief in our country and in each other are sacrosanct. Our respect for them and honor for their sacrifices should be no less. Admiral Jeremiah Denton said it well as he stepped off the plane when he reached Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines in 1973:

We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under such difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our Nation for this day.

God bless America.

Shouldn’t we should be at least a little grateful for all they did?

Oak Harbor resident Christine Picchi, Captain, Nurse Corps, United States Navy (Retired).

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