Comments on POW/MIA day 2010

  • Published
  • By Col. Ty Thomas
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing
Greetings to all--civic leaders from the local community, airmen of the mighty 97th, family members. Today is the day our nation has set aside to honor the heroism of a special breed of warriors - Americans who have endured captivity in enemy hands, as well as those whose fate remains unknown. Every September for the past 29 years, our nation has paused to reflect on their special brand of courage in the face of almost unimaginable hardship and abuse.

On May 22nd, 1968, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Chambers, from Muskogee, Oklahoma, and eight other Air Force crewmen were aboard a C-130A Hercules on a nighttime flare mission over northern Salavan province, Laos.

They were called "bat missions" and this particular flight was called "Blind Bat 01."

Colonel Chambers was a forward air controller for the Air Force assigned to the 23rd Tactical Air Support squadron. His job was coordinating air resources for strikes, ground support, and rescue operations. On this particular flight, he was an observer gaining familiarity with a new assignment.

Fifteen minutes after the aircraft last made a radio call, the crew of another U.S. aircraft observed a large ground fire near the last known location of the plane. A search and rescue mission was not attempted due to heavy anti-aircraft fire in the area.

In June of this year, the remains of the crew of "Blind Bat 01" were laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington national cemetery.

Since late 1973, the remains of 927 Americans killed in the Vietnam war have been accounted for and returned to their families. With the accounting of these airmen, 1,711 servicemembers still remain missing from the conflict.

Since World War I, more than 140,000 Americans have been prisoners of war. Some of them came home alive, but many more did not. Often, their fate remains in question.

To paraphrase Rupert Brooke's poem, "The Soldier," wherever American heroes have fallen, there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever America.

Still, whenever possible, we want to bring them home to rest in the country they loved and served so well. This September, we mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. And yet, six decades later, more than 70,000 U.S. servicemen from that war remain unaccounted for, their remains never recovered or never identified. 

The most recent serviceman missing in action was identified and returned to his family in August. He was Sergeant Charles P. Whitler, U.S. Army, and he died during the Korean war. Sergeant Whitler was buried on September 9th in his hometown of Cloverport, Kentucky, with full military honors.

More than 2,000 servicemen died as prisoners of war during the Korean war. With this accounting, 8,022 service members still remain missing from the conflict.

Forty-nine Americans were listed as POW/MIA's during Operation Desert Storm. DoD has accounted for all 49, the last being U.S. Navy Captain Michael Scott Specicher, whose remains were located in Iraq, and who was identified and returned to his family in August 2009. Regretably, two naval aviators accounted for as KIA are at-sea losses and will likely never be recovered.

Operation Iraqi Freedom has one soldier missing in action, and Operation Enduring Freedom still has one soldier missing in action.

Most of us can only imagine the anguish that families like these have endured, not knowing what happened to their loved ones, hoping against hope they might still be alive, or fearing they are still held captive somewhere, praying for rescue. We salute the quiet courage of families who have waited, in some cases for decades, for word of a loved one's fate.

Our solemn pledge to these families is we will never forget their loved ones' sacrifices, and we will never cease our efforts to locate and recover their remains. We must end the anguish of uncertainty these families have endured for so long. Whatever the cost, however long it takes us, wherever it takes us, these fallen warriors will come home to the land they loved. There are 600 DoD personnel involved in researching, investigating and identifying recovered remains from all the conflicts, worldwide.

So today, let us remember those who put country before self and did not return home to their families.

Let us remember the families of the missing who continue to burn the candle of hope.

And let us continue to tell America the story that without the service and sacrifice of brave Americans willing to give their last full measure of devotion, there would never have been a United States of America.

May God bless our former prisoners of war.

May God bless the memory of the missing and their families.

May God keep our men and women in uniform safe and their families strong.

And may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you.