Americans throughout the United States paused to recognize prisoners of war (POWs) and those missing in action (MIA), during National POW/MIA Day.
Service members persist in an ongoing effort to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this great nation, and of those in need of protection abroad. The day serves as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by those service members and their families.
Kevin Irwin, commander of American Legion Post 324 in Barstow, explained that he hopes a national day of recognition for POW/MIA would help educate the general public regarding the importance of offering respect to those who have served or currently serve in the armed forces.
“People know what it’s about, but not what it really means,” said Irwin.
“People here in the United States seem to forget sometimes… grow complacent about their freedom,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Beberniss, staff noncommissioned officer in charge for the pistol and rifle ranges on Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif. “We put lives on the line to preserve the rights of others. Nothing is free.”
Beberniss, injured in Iraq when an improvised explosive device exploded below the vehicle he was in, is one of the few Marine to reenlist as an amputee on permanent limited duty and remain on active duty, paving. Over the course of his recovery Beberniss would encourage his daughter to deliver cards to other patients in the hospital in order to demonstrate compassion and respect for those who serve. He continues to demonstrate this respect by seeking opportunities to personally thank others for their service, especially those who were POWs.
“If I see a POW license plate, I make time to go thank them for their service,” said Beberniss. “I have the utmost respect for someone who not only was in combat, but then caught by the enemy and forced to live in the lifestyle they have to live in.”
“Since World War I, more than 200,000 Americans have been listed as being (POW) or (MIA),” said Toni Sanchez, activity coordinator at Veterans Home of California, Barstow, during a service held at the veterans facility to honor National POW/MIA Day.
“Specifically during the Vietnam War, more than 2,500 Americans were captured and listed as (MIA),” Sanchez continued.
Shortly after the Vietnam War ended that the National League of Families was formed.
“Their goal was to remind the nation of their loved ones’ plight,” said Beth Wendlandt, activity coordinator at Veterans Home of California, Barstow.
“In 1971 Mrs. Michael Hoff, the wife of a (MIA) soldier and member of the National League of Families, felt that there should be a symbol to remind the nation of these soldiers and the cause to bring them home,” continued Wendlandt.
Hoff spearheaded a project to develop a flag that would represent POWs and those MIA, with the assistance of an employee at the Annin Flag Company. The flag is a black and white silhouette of a man with barbed wire and a tower in the background and is underscored by the words ‘You Are Not Forgotten.’
“This flag is the only flag, other than the American flag, that has ever flown over the White House,” explained Wendlandt. “The POW/MIA flag has flown there on every POW/MIA Recognition Day, the third Friday of every September, since 1982.”
The flag now waves as a representation of all missing men and women from any war.
“It represents our everlasting concern for our men and women who serve,” said Glen A. Pearl, Sr., adjutant of the Barstow chapter of Disabled American Veterans and retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day and the flag serve to honor those whose sacrifices secure the rights Americans hold dear.