Missing, detained service members remembered at event
Those families join thousands of others across the country who have loved ones listed as missing in action.
On Friday evening, the Janesville Patriotic Society remembered those soldiers at its annual POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony in Traxler Park.
“We have to remember them,” said John Kettle, society member and Vietnam War veteran. “We still have POWs out there, and there are still soldiers unaccounted for.”
According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, 83,923 soldiers are considered missing in action or unaccounted for.
The majority of those, 74,064, are from World War II. Another 1,713 are counted as missing in action during the Vietnam War.
“I think there’s a level of complacency about the issue, on the national level and the local level,” Kettle said.
POW/MIA Recognition Day is traditionally the third Friday in September, and the Patriotic Society has held ceremonies marking the day for more than a decade.
About 35 people attended Friday’s ceremony, which included the reading of imagined letters composed in the minds of a mother in the United States and her son in a prisoner of war camp.
The ceremony also featured the “Table Ceremony” with its empty table and places for each branch of the military and the Vietnam Veterans Salute with the George Jones song “50,000 Names on the Wall.”
Tom Stehura, Patriotic Society member and veteran, read the names of the 37 Wisconsin men still missing.
“These are our men overseas,” Stehura said. “They’re waiting for us to bring them home.”
Among the 37 is Air Force Capt. Donald W. Downing of Janesville. Downing was a bombardier/navigator on a flight that crashed in North Vietnam on Sept. 5, 1967.
While Downing and the three other airmen were considered missing, they were promoted. Downing became a lieutenant colonel.
The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office lists Downing as missing but with a “presumptive finding of death.”
Downing is now listed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., with 17 other Janesville men who didn’t come back.
In his closing remarks, Stehura asked the audience to keep missing soldiers and those who lost their lives for their country “foremost in their thoughts.”