GALLIPOLIS — Flags were flown at half mast on Friday in Gallipolis and across the country in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day and, at a solemn ceremony held in the Gallipolis City Park on Friday morning, a small group of veterans and their supporters honored those military service members who still remain unaccounted for.
Gallia County native, U.S. Army veteran and Ohio State VFW Commander Keith Jeffers was the guest speaker at the event that is sponsored each year by the Gallia County Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 709, and Post 4464 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“We are assembled here to remember comrades who are being held as prisoners of war or who are missing in action. We must not forget the sacrifices that these comrades are still making and the suffering they are still enduring for us and our way of life,” Jeffers said. “They must remain alive in our hearts and in our minds until we know they have returned home to their loved ones or have been called home to the bosom of our Heavenly Father. We must continue to give moral support to their families who continue to suffer along with them.”
Jeffers, who originally entered the service in 1968 for two years before re-enlisting in 1972 and retiring in 1995 as a Sergeant Major, was raised in a military family — his father and two of his uncles serving in WWII simultaneously.
During Friday’s program, Jeffers discussed some his family’s military history and recounted a portion of the tale related to his uncle John’s plight as a prisoner of war, sharing some of the letters his father wrote home to his grandmother while overseas inquiring about his younger brother John.
“I personally have never been missing in action or held as a prisoner of war, however, I do know what a family goes through who has a loved one who is missing in action or later held as a prisoner of war,” Jeffers said. “I have read the letters from the government to my grandparents about my uncle John who was missing in action and was later held as a prisoner of war in World War II. I also read the letters from my dad that he wrote to my grandmother. Dad was overseas also fighting during World War II, but when he had the opportunity, he would write letters home to grandma asking if there was any news about his younger brother John. I can only imagine all the emotion, the heartache and the pain that my grandparents endured having three sons serving their country in the armed forces during World War II.”
Jeffers, as a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, also spoke of his own visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and his own search for the names of those soldiers who he had served with whose whereabouts he now knows nothing of.
“I have always found it very difficult not knowing what happened to these young fellow soldiers, especially those who you lose contact with during hostile situations. I always wondered did they make it or not, did they survive,” Jeffers said.
Jeffers later explained the creation of the POW/MIA flag that is flown over all federal buildings on National POW/MIA Recognition Day as a “quiet, yet persistent reminder that not all wounds of the Vietnam War have healed.”
Jeffers also spoke of the thousands of service men and women who still remain unaccounted for since the First World War, including Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who went missing in Pakitka Province in Afghanistan in 2009 and has remained the prisoner of an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban.
“Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been prisoner of war since the thirtieth of June 2009,” Jeffers stated. “He had successfully escaped for three nights and two days but was recaptured after fierce hand-to-hand combat with them. It took about half a dozen of the Taliban to overpower him after he escaped. Although he was without food and rest and nearly naked, he put up a fierce fight in an attempt to remain free.”
The United States is still reportedly continuing its efforts to secure Bergdahl’s safe release.
Jeffers also stated that there are currently 7,470 soldiers who remain accounted for from WWI; 73,787 from WWII, 7,983 from the Korean War, 125 from the Cold War, a total of 1,682 from the Vietnam War and a total of six soldiers from Iraq and other conflicts.
“There are 83,577 families awaiting the return a loved one or, at least, the return of their remains,” Jeffers stated, while, in closing, asking those assembled on Friday to become active supporters of these POW/MIA families.
“There’s a lot that we can all do only if we become involved,” Jeffers said. “Let’s support the cause by joining the National League of POW/MIA Families, join the veterans’ groups that support this cause, support the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, write letters, make phone calls to your congressman, your senators, write to the President of the United States, start petitions, go online and educate yourself on this subject and use that knowledge to bring them all home.”