The candle symbolized the frailty of a prisoner alone, trying to stand up against oppressors.
It was the sixth year local veterans and families have paused to pay homage to the more than 83,343 Americans missing from World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and 1991 Gulf War.
According to the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, 73,661 are unaccounted for from World War II; 7,906 from the Korean War; Cold War, 126; Vietnam War, 1,644; and six from Iraq and other conflicts.
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Roger Wright was the guest speaker. The 34-year veteran is third generation military. He leads the ROTC program at Bradley Central High School.
“We all make sacrifices when we serve, but it is a much bigger sacrifice when you give your life for your country or when you are a POW or MIA,” he said. “We need to remember the sacrifice they made because there are still families still wondering: Are they still alive? What happened to them?
“Let’s never forget the sacrifices they have made and may still be making. Let us never forget their stories, because if we do, they are nothing.”
Bradley County Veterans Services Officer Larry McDaris explained the presence of a table positioned in a place of honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from ranks.
The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country's call to arms so their children could remain free.
The black ribbon on the candle is a reminder of those who will not be coming home. The single rose is a reminder of the loved ones and families of comrades in arms who keep the faith and await their return.
A slice of lemon on the bread plate is a reminder of their bitter fate. There is salt on the plate, symbolic of the family's tears as they wait and remember. The glasses are inverted because the missing men and women cannot toast — but maybe tomorrow.
“The Bible represents the strength gained through faith,” he continued.
A red, white and blue ribbon was tied to the flower vase by yellow ribbon worn by thousands who awaited their return, and a faded picture on the table is a reminder they are deeply missed and remembered by their families.
“The American flag reminds us that many of them may never return from where they have paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom. Do not forsake them. Pray for them and remember them,” he concluded.
American Legion Post 81 Chaplain Oscar Kelly asked God to remember those who are prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“We pray that you will be with everyone here today, especially those who have lost loved ones. We realize there are some things we forget but this is one thing we won’t ever forget, our missing in action and those who are prisoners of war.”
Bruce Phipps read “A Soldier’s Humble Prayer” written by Johnny Kimbrell and Lloyd Pate on June 21, 1953 at POW Camp No. 1, North Korea.
“Our friend and brother Bill Norwood was in camp as they were,” he said. “He wrote it down on a piece of brown paper bag or whatever he could find and brought it back with him.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland toasted those who have served and are serving in the uniform of the United States and are ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifices.
“We’re compelled to never forget while we enjoy are daily pleasures, there are others who endured and may still be enduring agony, pain, deprivation and imprisonment,” he said. “May their sacrifices be remembered and appreciated.”
Rowland and Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis read a joint city-county proclamation honoring the service of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who returned home after being declared missing in action or having been imprisoned by the enemy. “Faced with such adversity under wretched and torturous conditions in distant lands, they embody the power of the human spirit, sustaining themselves with hope and faith,” Davis said. “Our nation will never cease in our commitment to honor those who paid so high of price in its service.”
State Rep. Kevin Brooks said it was his honor to be in a room full of heroes before reading a proclamation on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam.
He said 205 Tennesseans are among the missing and unaccounted for since World War II. From the third Friday in September through the following Thursday of each year is designated Tennessee POW/MIA Recognition Week.
“As a symbol of commitment to achieving the fullest possible accounting of the courageous service members who are still unaccounted for as a result of hostile action, the stark black and white flag honoring our nation’s prisoner of war and those still missing in action will today be flown over the Tennessee State Capitol and other locations in towns and cities throughout the great State of Tennessee,” he said.
Dirk Morgan sung the National Anthem. VFW Post Commander Jimmy Johnson was the master of ceremony.
The first official commemoration of POW/MIAs was in 1979. The observance is one of six days of the year that Congress has mandated flying the POW/MIA flag at major military installations, national cemeteries, all Post Offices, VA medical facilities, the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, offices of the secretaries of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs; and the director of the Selective Service System and the White House.