Never Forget: Vietnam and POW/MIA Recognition Day event in Olympia

By Gary Lott on September 23, 2014

Realizing the impact of Prisoner of War and Missing in Action soldiers may be a little difficult for those not directly affected. That is, until watching a family member fight back tears during a Vietnam and POW/MIA Recognition Day event held Friday in front of the Capitol building in Olympia.

"It's an honor. It was a hard time and difficult time for the nation, as well as those of us that were serving," said Vietnam veteran and Washington Military Department Chief State Finance officer Daniel Swisher. "It's a lot of pride of nation for us. These people have given so much of their own lives to make this country what it is, and to forget that or not to honor that is just a tragedy."

Swisher was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969, and during Friday's ceremony he shared the impact of returning from Vietnam without a close friend with whom he had deployed as well as the sacrifices and risks of every deployed service member.

"It's important that we pass these stories on to our children, and they pass them on to their children, so we don't forget," Swisher said.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1986, and more than 80,000 service members from the U.S. are still considered to be "missing in action."

>>> Minute Man Riders conducted a joint motorcycle ride as part of the POW and MIA Recognition Event at the Capitol Plaza in Olympia.  The ride started outside of Camp Murray and ended at the Capitol in Olympia. Photo credit: Gary Lott

That's more than 80,000 family members and friends who were never able to thank their service members for their combat service or feel that euphoria of embrace when welcoming them back home into their arms.

"The 50th Vietnam Commemoration is to thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war (POW), or listed as missing in action (MIA), for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans," said Brig. Gen. John Tuohy of the Washington National Guard during the ceremony.

>>> Col. Gregory Allen, the event's master of ceremonies, expresses his gratitude to the family members of POW and MIA servicemembers during a POW/MIA Recognition Event. Photo credit: Gary Lott

Events such as this highlight the special partnership between the Washington National Guard, the Washington Department of Veterans' Affairs and National Guard Association of Washington that take place throughout the year.

Brig. Gen. Wallace Turner, commander of the Washington National Guard and the 6,200 citizen-soldiers that serve the United States of America and the state of Washington, was also on hand to read the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.

"In recognition of a chapter in our nation's history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country's call in Vietnam and those who awaited their safe return," said Turner, reading from President Obama's Vietnam Commemoration. "While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor."

Since Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government has partnered with local governments, private organizations and communities across America to honor and show thanks to the generation of service members who embarked upon one of the most challenging missions in U.S. history.

Along with the Washington Military Department and National Guard, which conducted the Sept. 19 ceremony at the Winged Victory Memorial at the Capitol, the Washington National Guard Military Funeral Honors performed the Honor Guard ceremony; the National Guard Association of Washington (NGAW) provided the traditional wreath; and the 133rd Army National Guard Band performed the event's music.

"The Washington Military Department, Washington Department of Veterans Affairs and Washington National Guard do a great job of honoring all these vets," said Swisher. "No one's forgetting, and that's truly special in itself."