The 49th Fighter Training Squadron executes the Missing Man formation over the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Day retreat ceremony. The Missing Man formation is an aerial salute saved for solemn and commemorative events. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Charles Dickens)
Col. Jim Sears, 14th Flying Training Wing Commander speaks to those in attendance at the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Day retreat ceremony. Sears recognized the two prisoners of war and the family members representing two other World War II POWs that were in attendance. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Charles Dickens)
Col. Jim Sears, 14th Flying Training Wing Commander and Vikki Sears talk with two former prisoners of war, retired Lt. Col. Gene Smith and retired Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris. Smith and Harris were both F-105 pilots that were shot down and became POWs in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Chase Hedrick)
Members of the 14th Flying Training Wing salute the American Flag during the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Day retreat ceremony Sept. 21 at Smith Plaza. POW/MIA day is recognized as a day to remember the sacrifices made by those captured or missing in action to protect the freedoms of the United States of America. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Charles Dickens)
by Airman 1st Class Charles Dickens
14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
9/21/2012 - COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Columbus Air Force Base held a prisoner of war and missing in action retreat ceremony at Smith Plaza Sept. 21 to remember those captured or missing during wartimes.
Two repatriated POWs and two family members of former POWs joined the 14th Flying Training Wing and Col. Jim Sears, 14th FTW Commander and event speaker at the ceremony.
"Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action are casualties that can all too easily be ignored, however, great lengths have been taken here at Columbus Air Force Base to ensure we have daily reminders of the sacrifices these patriots and their families have made," said Sears.
Multiple streets and areas throughout Columbus AFB have been named after prior Prisoners of War to honor the contributions they made to protect the freedoms of the United States, said Sears. Retired Col. Carlyle "Smitty" Harris, former Col. Glenn Shumake and former Staff Sgt. Rufus Ward, Sr. have roads on base named after them and Smith Plaza, located in front of the Wing Headquarters building, is named after retired Lt. Col. Gene Smith.
However, only the POW/MIA flag honors these heroic Americans and the promise their country has made to never forget them.
"That flag represents the sacrifice and plight of those Americans who have sacrificed their own freedom to preserve liberty for us all," said Sears. "Its presence serves to remind us that, while we enjoy the privilege of freedom, somewhere there are service members who have not been accounted for and whose whereabouts are unknown."
"Since World War I, more than 200,000 Americans have been listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action," said Sears. "Less than half of them were returned at the end of hostilities, leaving more than 125,000 Americans, servicemen and servicewomen, missing in action since 1914."
An organization known as the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command seeks out the remains of service members listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action and return them home. Due to the command's continued efforts, the number of missing service members from World War II on steadily decreases from the remaining 83,473 missing according to the command's announcement last December.
"The greatest nation will never rest until all those who have served something greater than themselves and for whom we cannot account are returned," said Sears. "Let us remember their sacrifice. Let us remember the price they paid to defend our freedom, defend our democracy and defend this great nation."