POW/MIA Council recognizes thousands still missing

By Nick Miller

The Scott POW/MIA Council held its 27th annual recognition ceremony Saturday morning, honoring those that had been captured during service or are still missing.

According to Geof Bambic of the POW/MIA Council, 82,232 Americans are still listed as Missing in Action as of September 14, 2018. Bambec went on to thank the assembled veterans, including some POW’s and the families of POW’s that were present.

“You sirs are true examples for our armed forces. Every American ones their freedom to all of you, and for that we would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Bambic said to the small assembled group of former prisoners of war.

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti served as the guest speaker and began by saying what an honor it was for to be present at the event. 

“On behalf of Governor Bruce Rauner and myself, we made it a priority to be here today for this ceremony,” Sanguinetti said. “From the shores of Normandy, to the jungles of Vietnam. From the mountains of Korea to the Persian Gulf, tens of thousands of American soldiers have experienced capture or disappearance. Tremendous efforts have been made, dedicated to finding our lost brothers and sisters. Over decades there have been successes, but I think this morning we recognize that this fight, is not even close to being over,” 

Sanguinetti said that while its important to remember and focus on returning all 82,232 missing Americans, she wanted to highlight another number. 

“Here is another number I want you all to remember. Four thousand, one hundred and seventy seven. This is the number of Illinoisians that remain unaccounted for since World War II. Behind each of these figures are countless stories of stories left patiently waiting for the return of their loved ones,” Sanguinetti said.

Bambec explained how the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) works to locate and identify remains so missing soldiers can be confirmed as found and returned home. 

Sanguinetti said DNA testing has assisted greatly in identifying the remains of those who had been previously lost. Bambec echoed that statement, revealing how many formerly missing soldiers had been found since last year’s ceremony.

“Since last year’s ceremony, the DPAA has discovered, identified, and returned 181 of America’s finest,” Bambec said. “Of those identified, 138 were from World War II, 25 were from the Korean War, and eight were from the Vietnam War,” Bambec said.

Sanguinetti said that her family’s history reminds her constantly why it is important to fight for freedom and remember and honor those who have fallen or been lost doing so on your behalf.

“This all makes me reflect and think about my family. As a Latina, my family is comprised of immigrants and refugees. My mother was a refugee from Fidel Castro’s Cuba. My mother never failed to tell me each and every day how much freedom means. She told me how Fidel Castro was very charming and at the beginning he came on the island and said ‘You can trust me and give me your ability to defend yourselves’ and they did that. But then next came liberties and properties, because freedom isn’t free,” said Sanguinetti.

The O’Fallon Township High School Junior Air Force ROTC posted the colors and performed the POW/MIA table ceremony, where a table for one is set with many symbolic items.

A 21-gun salute was conducted by the Polish American War Veterans based out of Caseyville, Illinois.

The annual event was hosted and held at VFW Post #805. Following the ceremony, attendees were invited to stay for a complementary barbecue lunch.

VFW, Scott POW/MIA Council hold 25th Annual POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony

82,666 American servicemen are still listed as MIA

Members of the Polish American War Veterans performed a 21-gun salute during the ceremony. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

Members of the Polish American War Veterans performed a 21-gun salute during the ceremony. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – Vernon Warren, Wilbert Rolves, and Bob Teichgraeber all have one thing in common- they are former Prisoners of War. The men, among others, were honored Saturday at the 25th Annual POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony, hosted by the Scott POW/MIA Council at O’Fallon VFW Post 805.

These men are not alone. While several POW’s have been repatriated, many more remain missing. Geoff Bambic, a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant and founding member of the Scott POW/MIA Council shared that as of September 12, 2016, 82,666 American servicemen are still listed as MIA. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Honolulu works to identify remains and 217 servicemen have been recovered in the past four years.

Bambic said the council came to be “when we realized Scott didn’t have one. We felt like it was really important to raise POW/MIA awareness. We decided to hold a yearly ceremony to honor them, and we’ve had them come from as far as Tennessee.” When speaking to the crowd, Bambic said “Our nation’s former Prisoners of War, family members of those still listed as Missing in Action, and special guests of both- You are the true example for our armed forces to emulate. Every American owes their freedom to all of you, and for that, we would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Warren, 86, served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War as a member of the 24th Infantry Regiment. In November of 1950, just four months after he arrived in country, he was taken as a Prisoner of War by the Chinese. Warren would remain a POW until Operation Little Switch took place in April of 1953. He was interviewed by a group of O’Fallon Township High School Students for their ongoing Veteran’s History Project, and he spoke to them about how horrible the conditions were, including having to eat chicken feed and losing over 40 pounds.

Rolves, 92, served out of the Oklahoma National Guard during World War II in the 45th Infantry Division. While in Italy, Rolves was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in Stalag 13D in Nuremberg from 1943 to 1945.

Teichgraeber, 96, a U.S. Army Air Forces veteran, was a B-24 Waist Gunner who’s plane was shot down after bombing a target in February of 1944. He broke his ankle when bailing out of his plane, and was captured by the Germans and imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV, and remained a POW for 453 days until being liberated by the British Army in May of 1945.

“I would love for there not to be a 26th ceremony, for everyone to be brought home and for it to be a celebration. It’s a great honor of mine to be able to pay this tribute to those of you that are here today, and those of us that aren’t here to day, that can’t be here. You’ve sacrificed so much for this country, it’s immeasurable. Our duty is to ensure that we honor your service to this nation, to never forget the sacrifices made, and to ensure that the citizens of this nation never forget the POW/MIA cause,” said Bambic.

Several groups from the surrounding areas participated in the ceremony and luncheon. The posting and retrieval of the colors was performed by the Korean War Veterans Association and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Cub Scout Pack 9. Chaplain Scott Adkins led the attendees in an invocation prayer. The Armed Services Medley was played, and attendees clapped along for the men and women standing for their respective branch song.

Mike Edwards, U.S. Army Veteran and retired Scott Air Force Base civilian Assistant Fire Chief performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

“This is my last time. I’ve done it for a long time, but I’m retiring,” said Edwards, who is experiencing health issues. The Polish American War Veterans performed a 21 gun salute and Rodney Thompson performed “Taps” immediately following.

At the end of the ceremony, Teichgraeber said “Mr. B., all of us here would like to thank you and everyone responsible for the recognition you’ve given us today.” An emotional Bambic responded “It is our honor to do this for you. You are our driving force, and we love each and every one of you. Thank you.”