Team BLAZE to observe POW/MIA Recognition Day

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Every year on the third Friday of September, the U.S. recognizes service members who were prisoners of war or are still missing in action.

Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, honors those brave men and women and their families who have sacrificed so much.

“POW/MIA Recognition Day honors those who gave everything for their country,” said Maj. Trae Haughton, 14th Flying Training Wing flight safety chief. “Everyone has paid some price, but they paid the ultimate price.”

Since World War I, there have been over 200,000 Americans who have been POWs or MIA; today there are still over 74,000 men and women missing. So, America has dedicated this third Friday in September to ensure citizens do not forget the sacrifices so many men and women in uniform have made. Some gave up years of their lives and were tortured in the process, while others never returned home. Families have also endured the sacrifices of these men and women, missing out on them for several years or their loved ones never returned.

One of the many ways Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, remembers POWs/MIAs is the Richard “Gene” Smith Plaza in front of the Wing Headquaters. The plaza is a reminder to never forget the Airmen who were captured or never came home.

Retired Lt. Col. Richard “Gene” Smith, was an F-105 Thunderchief pilot. During the Vietnam War, he was shot down during a bombing mission to destroy the Paul Doumer Bridge in North Vietnam on Oct. 25, 1967. He was captured and tortured for five and a half years, but said he never gave up his faith his country.

“It was an experience I would take nothing for,” Smith said. “I would not like to do it again, but if I had to I would because I believe in this country and what it stands for.”

Today, one of the ways in which the Air Force continues to remember the sacrifices, like Smith’s, is by dedicating a table to them at official ceremonies and functions. During functions such as the Air Force Ball and Airmen leadership school graduations, an empty table is reserved for those that have never returned home.

The table is set for one, symbolizing the frailty of one isolated prisoner; has a white tablecloth for the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms; a single red rose in a vase, signifying the blood that many have shed in sacrifice to ensure freedom; a yellow ribbon that for the love of their country; a slice of lemon of the bread plate for the bitter fate of the missing; salt sprinkled on the bread plate for the tears of their families as they wait; an inverted glass because they are not attending the ceremony; a lit candle for the light of hope which lives in the nation’s heart to illuminate their way home, away from captors, to a grateful nation; and an empty chair for missing and the fallen.

The Defense Department has dedicated its time to searching the globe for the missing Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen through the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Their mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.

“You can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done,” Haughton said. “You can thank them every day from now until eternity and it would never be enough.”