Bradley County veterans took time Friday morning to remember soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were held as prisoners of war and those who are still missing.
The annual recognition ceremony was held at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2598. It was the fourth year local veterans and families paused to pay homage to the more than 100,000 service members missing or unaccounted for from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The numbers include 74,791 from WWII; Korea, 8,031; Vietnam, 1,721; “and many, many more from the Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan,” said VFW Post Commander and master of ceremonies Ed Baumuller.
“I’m proud we still have this spirit in our town that we turn out to honor those who have given the ultimate price.”
Participating was retired Navy Chaplain Capt. Paul Williams, of Rossville, Ga., where he pastors the First Baptist Church. He served on the USS Nashville during Vietnam. He retired from the service after 32 1/2 years. He was commissioned as a chaplain in 1966.
While he has never been a prisoner of war or been listed as missing in action, he has dealt with people who have.
“I was called upon many, many time to accompany the casualty assistance officer to report to families of either a death or a missing in action,” he said.
He also conducted many funerals and memorial services that gave him the opportunity to pay his respects to men who had given their lives or were missing. “It was a chance to minister to the families.”
American Legion Post 81 Chaplain Oscar Kelly prayed for Americans to remember those homes where emptiness dwells in place of loved ones who have not returned home from battle. He said there are men and women who have given their last full measure of devotion and others who still suffer from wounds that purchased liberty.
“Give comfort to those who wait in sorrow and to those who are hurting because of their loss,” he said. “We pray thee we may have peace in our time, so those sacrifices will not have to be repeated.”
Pearl Harbor survivor George Allen lit the ceremonial candle.
Grant Pirkle explained the MIA/POW memorial table set for one, symbolizing members of the armed forces missing from the ranks, who are referred to as POWs and MIAs.
“We call them brothers and sisters,” Pirkle said. “They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay humble tribute to them.”
The table is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her oppressors. The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.
“The single rose in the vase signifies the blood they shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America,” Pirkle said. “The rose also reminds us of the families and friends of our missing brothers and sisters, who keep faith while awaiting their return.”
A red ribbon around the vase stands for the red ribbon worn on the lapels of thousands of Americans who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper accounting. A slice of lemon on their plate is a reminder of their bitter fate.
Salt sprinkled on the plate is a reminder of countless tears shed by waiting families.
“The glass is inverted. They cannot toast with us at this time,” he said. “The chair is empty. They are not here. The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope that lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation. The Bible represents strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God. The American flag reminds us that many of them have never returned, for they have paid the supreme sacrifice to ensure our freedoms.”