POW/MIA Recognition Day poignant remembrance

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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More than 50 people tucked under tents Saturday morning to honor those who were prisoners of war or missing in action. Rain fell from the gray sky throughout the hourlong event, but those in attendance didn’t seem bothered by the wet weather.

“Our feet may be wet, our hair flat,” said Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Vancouver mayor pro-tem, “but when you think about why we’re here today, this is nothing.”

“Today, we honor all prisoners of war,” she said. “Today, we unite, and we vow we will never forget the missing.”

McEnerny-Ogle was one of several speakers at the local observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, hosted by the Community Military Appreciation Committee.

This year’s event was particularly poignant; just last month, a Clark County family received the remains of a loved one who was missing in action.

“In August, we recognized a soldier who came home from Korea after 66 years,” Larry Smith, co-chair of the committee, told the audience.

Billy Butz left Vancouver in 1950 when he was just 18 years old. He was listed as missing in action until 1953, when a review board changed his status to deceased. His family knew Butz would never come home, Smith said, but they held out hope they would be able to bury his remains.

That happened Aug. 12, when Butz was laid to rest in a military funeral at Evergreen Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Vancouver.

Butz’s family was recognized during Saturday’s event at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Orchards, and speakers paid tribute to the families of those still waiting for their loved ones to come home.

“Let us remember the families of the missing who continue to burn the candle of hope,” said. Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver.

Harris’ father served in the Navy during World War II.

“I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like without my father in my life,” he said. “It certainly would be different than what it is today.”

Few people outside of those personally touched by POWs and MIAs know that the third Friday in September in National POW/MIA Recognition Day, said Col. Thomas Olson, the event’s keynote speaker. Events like Saturday’s serve as the parade other holidays receive, he said.

“In many ways, remembering is the most powerful thing we can do for our POWs and MIAs,” Olson said.

Wreaths placed at the reserve center’s POW/MIA monument honored those who are unaccounted for (7,946 soldiers from the Korean War and 83,414 since World War II), captured as prisoners of war (7,140 from the Korean War and 142,247 since World War II) and those who died in captivity (2,701 from the Korean War and 17,010 since World War II).

“Today we fly the black and white flag across the country,” Harris said. “These patriots deserve to be remembered.”