PALMDALE – A crowd of about 30 gathered at Poncitlan Square Friday for the annual POW/MIA Remembrance Day Ceremony.
“The purpose of this is to show our respect to the families and to let POWs and MIAs know we will never forget,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford.
During the short, but memorable ceremony, representatives from various local veterans’ organizations paid tribute to prisoners of war and men and women of the military who are missing in action.
“To all of them we owe a debt of gratitude,” said Dan Kirmel of Palmdale Moose Lodge 507. “It is a debt that we can never fully repay.”
“The staggering amount of veterans that we have through today that are still unaccounted for is unacceptable,” said Ken Brabam, Commander of American Legion 348.
VFW Post 3552 Commander Tom Meisinger said there were nearly 88,000 Americans listed as missing and unaccounted for going back to the Second World War.
He said that number includes 78,000 Americans from World War II; 8,100 from the Korean War; 1,730 from the Vietnam War; 120 from the Cold War and 1 each from our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We cannot walk in their shoes,” said Meisinger.
“But we can reassure them that veterans’ organizations like the VFW will continue to fight on Capitol Hill for better healthcare and benefits for all veterans, and that we will never rest until our nation has obtained the fullest possible accounting of our missing.”
In a tribute full of symbolism, members of the Highland High School AFJROTC presented the Table of Honor. “The table you see before you is set for those POWs and MIAs who could not be with us today,” said Major Conrad Hernandez, who led the tribute.
As Conrad spoke, members of the AFJROTC set the table with the traditionally symbolic items of the Table of Honor, including the Bible, the black napkin to “symbolize the emptiness that warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends”; the single red rose and red ribbon, the yellow candle and its yellow ribbon, the slice of lemon on the bread plate, the salt upon the bread plate, and the wine glass turned upside down that “reminds us that our distinguished comrades could not be with us to drink a toast or join in the ceremony of this day.”
AFJROTC members brought four service hats to the table to symbolize everyone who has served in the conflicts (each hat represented a different branch of the military).
Veterans and service members in attendance were called to stand for recognition, and later, there was a brief moment of silence to honor POWs and MIAs.
Many in attendance said the ceremony was well orchestrated, however, some were dismayed by the low turnout.
“I think we need more people here,” said Joanie Breech. “We need more exposure.”
Ledford said he was especially disappointed by the no shows from elected officials.
“I’m a bit disappointed that we don’t see the kind of turnout from the elected officials that benefit,” Ledford said. “They’re the one group that should go above all and appreciate those sacrifices. And quite frankly, I’d like to see regular attendance out of those that do benefit from our form of government.”
The event was presented by the Antelope Valley Service Organization Association, which has hosted the annual event for nearly 10 years. The group holds four events each year in recognition of service members, past and present — Veterans Day, Memorial Day, POW/MIA Day and Flag Day.