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National POW/MIA Wreath Laying Ceremony

Honoring and remembering past and present Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action

United States Air Force airmen lay a wreath during the Wreath Laying Ceremony at Memorial Grove JBLM in recognition and honor of prisoners of war and those missing in action. Photo credit: Brendan Baptiste

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On the third Friday in September, the United States recognizes National POW/MIA Recognition Day. This is a day to honor and remember past and present Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action. 

On Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a crowd gathered for a Wreath Laying Ceremony at Memorial Grove to pay their respects and to listen to Retired Army Colonel Bill Reeder tell his story as a POW in the Vietnam War. These men and women have gone through horrific journeys, with many of them never returning to their families.

On Col. Bill Reeder's second combat tour during the 1972 Eastern Offensive, Reeder's Cobra Attack Helicopter was shot down in Vietnam. With a broken back and shrapnel in his legs, he would crawl evading the enemy for three days before he was captured. With broken bones, he was forced to march three days to his first POW camp in Northern Cambodia. Soon after he would be transferred by foot on a journey of over 200 miles through jungle and mountains. He would survive malnutrition, parasites, malaria, and dysentery with the destination being the infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison in Northern Vietnam.

On Jan. 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed ending the United States' involvement in the war, and restoring peace with Vietnam. Col. Reeder would be released and returned home March 27. Operation Homecoming would return 591 POWs captured in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, as well as two Vietnam-era POWs and a Cold War POW who were released from China. However, there were still 2,583 individuals listed as missing.

With the combined efforts of POW/MIA families, the National League of Families, the National Alliance of Families, as well as many other activist groups, many POW/MIA families are finally finding closure.

Today, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency consist of over 400 active-duty, DoD civilians, and contractors. They oversee the accounting for Americans listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action. The status of over 1,800 missing servicemembers, including over 1,000 from the Vietnam War, have now been accounted for.

The POW/MIA flag is flown in honor, but still a sobering reminder that over 1,500 individuals are still missing today. You Are Not Forgotten.

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