SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – A black and white flag fluttered in the wind just below the American flag here Sept. 16, 2021, the silhouette of a man the central focal point of the now-recognized symbol for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 81,000 U.S. service members are still missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. Although unaccounted for, POW/MIA Day ensures those held as POWs or who are missing are never forgotten, the motto inscribed on the flag.
Joel Jimenez, an Army combat infantryman during the Vietnam War and commander of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter in Wichita Falls, was the guest of honor for this year’s POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony. He was presented with a POW/MIA flag in a shadow box during the event.
Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, 82nd Training Wing commander and host of this year’s retreat service, said it’s important to have these events every years to remember those who have served before and to pause and recognize the ultimate sacrifice many of them paid.
The general recalled Sheppard AFB’s role during the Vietnam War when America’s POWs were coming home after, in some cases, years of captivity. In 1973, Sheppard was a regional facility used during Operation Homecoming during the Vietnam War as POWs were repatriated when they returned home.
Even the Airman’s Creed, he said, contains a reminder that “We will never leave an Airman behind,” he said. That was seen recently when the DPMAA announced the remains of Army Air Force Sgt. Francis W. Wiemerslage, a 20-year-old ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II, were recovered on Aug. 24, 2021.
“So even today – several weeks ago – the efforts continue for us to bring every American Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine back home to the United States of America,” the general said. “So we thank the efforts of those who continue to do the hard work and the diligence to not only ensure that we remember them, but we bring them home to their family members and are accounted for so they can be remembered forever.”
A ceremonial POW/MIA table sat to the left of the audience with five place settings representing the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. Each item that is part of the table has a specific meaning:
• The table is round, showing our everlasting concern;
• The table cloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to service;
• The single red rose reminds us of the lives of these Americans, and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith while seeking answers;
• The red ribbon symbolizes our continuing uncertainty, the hope for their return, and our determination to account for them;
• A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate, captured or missing in a foreign land;
• A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families;
• The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return;
• The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God;
• The glass inverted symbolizes their inability to share a toast;
• The empty chairs symbolize the missing.
In addition to the retreat ceremony, the 365th Training Squadron hosted a 24-hour POW/MIA Run. By the end of the 24 hours, more than 160 runners participated in the event, filling up 48 consecutive 30-minute sessions for an aggregate of 139 miles.