This coming Friday, September 17 will be National POW-MIA Day. American Legion Post 41 along with Smoky Mountain Health and Hospice, Caris Healthcare, the Daughters of the American Revolution and others will hold their third annual recognition program.
This year’s program will be held at the Newport City Park and begin at 11:30 a.m. and include, a speaker, Post 41’s new Honor Guard, and a presentation of Quilts of Valor by the Parrottsville Quilt Guild.
After the program there are hamburgers and hot dogs for all. Everyone is invited to join and help recognize the thousands of men who are still unaccounted for.
In all of America’s conflicts with other countries, beginning with the Revolutionary War, there have been soldiers captured who became a Prisoners of War (POW) and many others who were never heard of again and listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Many of the MIA’s have been reclassified as Killed In Action (KIA) as modern technology that matches DNA of remains being recovered.
Just some of the numbers of American POWs during the last 245+ years of this country’s history are staggering. The Revolutionary War had an estimated 20,000 who were held as POWs and 8,500 died in captivity. The Civil War had more POWs than any other conflict or war we have been in with 214,000 Confederate and 194,000 Union soldiers and over 25,000 on each side dying in those POW camps.
The Civil War, in America, caused countries around the world to come together and write the Geneva Convention to address the treatment of the prisoners and those wounded in battle. While World War I was only two years long for America, there were just over 4,100 POWs. It was followed by World War II with 94,000 in Europe and 30,000 imprisoned by the Japanese.
In both of these wars the “rules of caring” for the injured and captives were ignored. Stories coming from the Japanese POWs were full of horror and mistreatment. An approximate 40% of Americans captured by the Japanese lost their lives.
Prior to WWI there were no dog tags or identification for individual soldiers so many of the early wars left graves of dead soldiers with a headstone marked Unknown. WWI allowed for the documentation of the men who were in each unit. When one would not return from the battle and had not been positively identified as being killed, he became MIA.
Then along came Korea and Vietnam. In Korea there were just over 7,100 American captured. The Geneva Conventions were again overlooked and 2,700 were known to have died at the hands of their captors. Because of the move towards modernization in the military there were other Americans listed as MIA’s. The United States declared them as presumed dead in February of 1954.
Prior to these past twenty years in Afghanistan, our longest war was in Vietnam from November of 1955 through April of 1975. Many of the 766 prisoners were held for years. The longest held enlisted soldier was, now retired Captain, Bill Robinson a Madisonville, Tennessee resident.
He was captured on September 20, 1965 and was released in 1973. The North Vietnamese tortured, forcibly worked, and used the POWs as shields against bombing. 144 of the POWs lost their lives due to the imprisonment. In 1973 there were still 2,646 Americans listed as MIAs, but as of May 2020, there are now 1,587.
Since the wars prior to WWII were shorter in length and America had won them there were easier access to the battlefields which increased the ability to recover remains and have them identified. Since America did not win Korea or Vietnam the United States could not go back to the battlefields and recover the remains and could not provide answers about their fates to the families.
With the technologies of the seventies, communications became easier and allowed the families of the MIAs to band together and demand answers about their loved ones.
These families formed non-profit groups like the National League of Families’ whose mission was “to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War.” Their founder was Sybil Stockdale wife of Vice Admiral James Stockdale who was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton prison.
The signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January of 1973, between the United States and the North Vietnamese, allowed the release of all POWs. Then next month “Operation Homecoming” was on American TV showing the release of our POWs. By the end of March 591 soldiers were returned home.
Other organizations include the National Forget-Me-Nots from Tampa, Florida, founded by Bob and Evelyn Cressman on behalf of their missing son Peter. After becoming a member of the group, we sent letters to the government demanding they account for all the men still listed as MIAs.
I organized the first POW-MIA Recognition Day program held at Tampa City Hall on July 19, 1985. We were joined by the Mayor, had an ex-POW as speaker, then we released black balloons for the Tampa Bay men still missing.
The work of all the groups got the attention of Congress and July 18, 1979, the first commemoration to honor America’s POW-MIAs was held in Washington, DC. In 1982 the POW-MIA flag was flown over the White House just below the American flag to mark the day.
Legislation to make the POW-MIA a National Day of Recognition was introduced every year until 1995 when Congress discontinued considering the legislation. Every year since each President has signed an annual proclamation.
In 1998, Congress passed legislation to have the POW-MIA flag flown on the Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. In 2018, it was made mandatory to fly the flag at selected federal sites “year-round” and included the White House, the World War II and Vietnam Veteran’s Memorials.
In January of 2015 the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was formed to recover United States military personal who are listed as POW or MIA from past conflicts around the world to help use more scientific advances to identify remains.
The DPAA states their “mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel from past conflicts to their families and the nation. Within this mission, we search for missing personnel from World War II (WWII), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, and other recent conflicts. Our research and operational missions include coordination with hundreds of countries and municipalities around the world”.
Their operations are based at Hickam Field in Hawaii and have teams working in countries to recover remains of servicemen. Recently they recovered World War II remains of a Tennessee soldier.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced on September 15, 2020, that Army Pvt. Warren G.H. DeVault, 24, killed during World War II, was accounted for Sept. 14, 2020. Their release said that “In November 1944, DeVault was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. His unit was engaged in battle with German forces near Hürtgen, Germany, when he was reportedly killed in action on Nov. 20. DeVault could not be recovered because of the on-going fighting, and his remains were not recovered or identified. He was buried as Unknown at American Military Cemetery Neuville-en-Crozon (Ardennes Cemetery), Belgium, where his remains were exhumed in 2019.”
On August 14, 2021, Private DeVault was buried in the Spence cemetery in his home town of Dayton. His nephew said it was, “a total relief” to finally have him returned home.
The DPAA’s latest report shows, as of last month, more than 81,600 Americans remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars/other conflicts. Out of the more than 81,600 missing, 75% of the losses are located in the Indo-Pacific, and over 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea (i.e., ship losses, known aircraft water losses, etc.).
Though work continues to recover all the remains that can be found in Europe and Southeast Asia it is important to keep the United States government on task so they will continue to work with other countries.
In 2018 North Korea returned 55 boxes of remains to President Trump. As of today, over 41 remains have been identified the last coming this past month. The government needs to open negotiations with North Korea so teams can go there and recover more missing soldiers.
From the website HonorStates.org who has compiled information on all the POW-MIAs they report the total MIAs from World War I: 7,500 MIAs, World War II: 150,000 MIAs, Korean War: 15,000 MIAs, and the Vietnam War: 2,500 MIAs. The state of Tennessee is shown to have had 1,732 MIAs from all the above wars. Current numbers from the National League of Families classify 25 from Tennessee as still unaccounted for.
While the conflict continues in Iraq there are currently no POW-MIAs reported there and all service members have been accounted for in Afghanistan.
This Friday be sure to join American Legion Post 41 and help support the importance of POW-MIA Recognition Day 2021. Remember it will be at the Newport City Park beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Congresswoman Harshbarger has announced, “This coming week, I will be holding a “Coffee with your Congresswoman” – in Newport: Thursday, September 16, from 8:30-9:30 am at Newport City Park, Pavilion 1, 220 Smith Street. I’ll give everyone a brief update on what’s going on in Washington and here in East Tennessee and will address any questions you may have. Those interested in attending should RSVP to TN01.RSVP@mail.house.gov.”
NEWS OF NOTE
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 - meets the third Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be tomorrow Night, Thursday, September 16, at 148 Pine Street. There will be a covered dish dinner at 6 p.m. and the meeting begins at 7 p.m. The hall is open on Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon, there will be doughnuts, coffee, and drinks available. Service officers will be available to help with claims or any questions. You can call the Hall at (423) 532-8130 (Please leave a message) or Commander Larry Hartsell at 423-623-5112.
Rob Watkins is a totally disabled, Air Force, Vietnam combat veteran. He has worked with Veterans for over 40 years. As a member of local organizations, he continues his path to help others. Please send information, and dates for events, two weeks in advance, questions or suggestion; by mail to 565 Caney Creek Road Cosby, TN 37722 or c/o Newport Plain Talk, email; firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918, please leave a message.