ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma --
To give one’s life on the battlefield is one of the sacrifices that service members accept when they raise their right hand. While some give all in one moment, others pay a far different price.
Since the beginning of human warfare, it has been a common sentiment that it was better to die on the battlefield than to fall into enemy hands. That sentiment was solidified in wars such as the Vietnam War, where prisoners of war were treated poorly.
“When they talk about the Vietnam War, they say that a lot of people didn’t make it back,” said Joe Roman, the commander of the Altus Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4878. “While some people physically came back, they mentally stayed there.”
Roman served in the United States Army, deployed to Iraq and retired as a Staff Sergeant.
The third Friday of September is reserved to honor both those who went missing in action, and those who were captured.
Prisoners of War and Missing in Action day is held every year to honor those who were captured and those who never made it back home.
“They say all gave some, and some gave all,” said Roman. “Days like this are days where we can thank everyone who participated. It’s a relatively new day for recognition.”
There are currently more than 1,700 military personnel who are listed as missing or unaccounted for. Roughly 90 percent of those missing did so during the Vietnam War, in areas like Laos and Cambodia.
“It means a lot to veterans to have days like this,” said Roman. “MIA troops are brothers, sisters, friends and more. We like to take time to recognize them.”
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is a government group organized to recover personnel and their remains and return them to their home country.
One of the staunch reminders of the sacrifices of MIA personnel stands in Washington D.C.
Names of MIA personnel are inscribed on a wall known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Next to the names of those who are considered MIA, a small plus sign is carved.
If the missing individual’s remains are accounted for, the plus is modified into a diamond.
If the individual is recovered alive, a circle is engraved around the plus sign symbolizing the circle of life. After 36 years, more than 58,000 names have been added to the wall and not a single circle has been added around a plus sign.
The wall, other monuments and the history of POW/MIA personnel serve as stark reminders of the prices paid by those who came before. The sacrifices of those who were never found, suffered as prisoners or whose bodies fill unnamed graves are the shoulders that modern service members stand on.