Each stone is unique and storied, and each was shown meticulous care and dedication. Just like each member of the military who was honored and remembered on Saturday.
Project manager Kelly Punteney, who oversaw construction of a new POW/MIA monument in east Vancouver, said momentum and partnerships had come together to get the stone memorial built in “the right place, the right time and the right spirit.”
The Community Military Appreciation Committee masterminded the monument, which was dedicated before a crowd of hundreds. Committee co-chair Larry Smith, an Army veteran and a Vancouver city councilman, emceed the proceedings and reminded everyone that CMAC includes many veterans but is in fact a civic nonprofit organization that’s open to all. Learn more at http://www.cmac11.com.
The monument commands attention in a prominent spot just before the entrance to the Armed Forces Reserve Center, which opened in 2011 at 15005 N.E. 65th St. Punteney said that location would help the monument fulfill its mission: reminding our community about American soldiers who were imprisoned by the enemy, and remembering the ones who never came home.
According to the Department of Defense, there are 83,189 American military personnel currently “unaccounted for.” That includes more than 1,600 from Vietnam, nearly 8,000 from Korea and 73,536 from World War II.
Wounded World War II veteran and guest of honor Dale Bowlin said he was “truly humbled” but also intimidated by his task on Saturday, representing all former POWs and MIAs during the ceremony, because his “very brief POW experience pales” in comparison with those who were tortured by the Japanese or who experienced “the atrocities of the Nazis.”
Bowlin was captured by the Germans and wounded by American artillery fire in February 1945. A German soldier probably risked his own life to save Bowlin’s, he has said, but his left leg was eventually amputated above the knee. (After making his way to the podium, Bowlin got laughs by quipping that his “$42,000 computer-controlled knee joint” still had its issues, and “I appreciate all you taxpayers’ contributing to it.”)
“War is a horrible way to resolve differences” between nations, he said. “But if my generation had not responded … what sort of world would we live in today?”
Bowlin applauded several of his veteran peers and friends, especially Gene Liggett, who survived wounds during months of World War II combat and then several prisoner camps in Germany and Poland; the Russians who liberated Liggett sent thousands of American prisoners to labor camps in Siberia, and they were never seen again, Bowlin said. But Liggett managed to escape that fate too; he is “one of my special World War II heroes,” Bowlin said.
The day’s keynote speaker was Army Col. John Sweeney, who commands the 2nd Brigade 95th Division, based at the Reserve Center. Sweeney, who lives in Seattle, said he was stumped about what to say on this patriotic occasion when he was awakened the other day by sirens in his neighborhood.
It turned out to be a small house fire, he said, and as he watched the firefighters and other first responders running toward the type of emergency that most people run away from, he was struck by their dedication and heroics. They were showing the same skill and courage as the soldiers who were being honored Saturday, he said.
“They had pledged their lives to each other and to all of us,” he said. They were “gentle and strong, persevering and professional, hopeful and determined.”
Sweeney underlined the plight of the families of prisoners and the missing. They have “no grave to visit, no answers to the growing questions that last a lifetime,” he said.
Symbolizing their ongoing plight on Saturday was a modest little table that was set out in the sunshine before the podium. Patrick Locke described the details: It was small and set for one. Its white tablecloth stood for the purity of the prisoner’s motives. A red rose in a vase “reminds us of the faith of the families and loved ones” who are still waiting in uncertainty; a red ribbon around the neck of that vase stood for “the nation’s determination to account for all” who are missing.
There was a bitter slice of lemon, an empty chair and an upside-down cup, standing for the bitterness of the prisoners’ fate and the fact that “they cannot share a toast with us,” Locke said.
State Rep. Monica Stonier, one of several dignitaries who spoke, said there remains “firm expectation” that the missing and imprisoned will still come home.
Stonier thanked CMAC for making sure that military remembrances are “a consistent calendar item” in Clark County.