It’s always a solemn occasion when a nation gathers to honor its soldiers, those who lived to come home, but even more importantly those who did not. There are 33 missing POW/MIA’s from the State of Tennessee. Each one was honored in a ceremony on Public Square in Clarksville this Sunday evening.
The Memorial Day Candle light vigil is held by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 396. This is the 20th consecutive year for the ceremony. It was first held in 1989, the same year the local chapter was chartered. The initial list contained a total of 43 names, since that time 9 comrades have found their way home, the latest in 2005.
The colors were posted as an honor guard of Montgomery Central High School JROTC Students stood a silent vigil around the war memorial on public square. Then a single chair representing all of the POW/MIA’s nationwide was placed in a position of honor before the audience. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited, and a moment of silence was held. Then Rev. Elijah Oliver of delivered the invocation.
State Senator Tim Barnes was introduced and spoke a few words.
State Senator Tim Barnes addresses the crowd
Thank you, I just want to say what a honor it is to be here at this occasion. That we mark the contributions of so many, who gave so much.
I was about 8, 9 years old when my older brother went to this foreign land that I had never heard of before. It was about at that time that I and the rest of this nation were learning the names of these places. Like ?à N?ng, Long Bien, and Palku. And it seems like forever ago that I remember that time. And I remember hearing about all those who did not come back. And that is what we are here for.
Ah! My brother did make it back, but unfortunately about two months after he got back he was killed in a car wreck.
And that was my first opportunity to see a military funeral, and I can tell you as 11 year old child and it’s something to, to watch as a child, to see that salute, to hear the bugler in the distance which I am convinced is the saddest sound on the face of the earth. And to have that, in this case an airman with white gloves on, turn and bend down to my mother and hand that flag and say, “On behalf of a grateful nation”.
And I know during that time 1970 it was July of 1970. All across the country there was so many mothers who were receiving those flags, on behalf of a grateful nation. And the only thing I have to say here is that I will never forget that, and I hope that indeed, we are a grateful nation.
Then State Representative Joe Pitts was introduced…
State Rep. Joe Pitts Addresses the crowd
Thank you Gary, and thank you to all who are here this evening, on this solemn occasion. This is one of my favorite, favorite times during our Memorial Day holiday, just primarily because we pause, and call out those names individually those, who have served but never returned. I also want to say thank you to Rev. Pastor Johnny Conway and Robert Warren his wingman, and brother Elijah oliver and others who continues to serve with the Veterans Temporary Assistance program. Your service gentlemen should not go unrecognized.
I won’t sit here and try to recite a bunch of dates because we all know the genesis, and the beginning of Memorial Day. I just want to tell a couple of stories if I could. I had a speech prepared but I am just gonna put that aside.
I remember much like Sen Barnes being an 11 year old child in December of 1969 when the mother of one of my classmates in sixth grade, came to the classroom and took out my classmate, his name was Mark. And she took him out and uh told him his father had been killed in Vietnam. And I remember that crystallized the war for me. Because I remember that Mark was gone for a couple of weeks, and when he came back, he was never the same.
Something that I want to recall those who served, and those who were wounded. My father’s in the audience tonight he’s a Korean war purple heart veteran and when he speaks of that experience which is not very often. He speaks with great reverence, but also with great reservation, because as he says “the purple heart club is a club you don’t want to be asked to join”.
We are pausing tonight to recognize those who are missing, those who are unaccounted for, those who served and did not return.
It was my honor to speak on Friday at the opening ceremonies in Oak Grove for the traveling wall, the Vietnam memorial wall thats so beautifully displayed in that park setting, in Oak Grove. And there are more than 58,000 names on that wall. But among the 58,000 names there are over 1,200 which represent those who didn’t return, or are unaccounted for. We are stopping tonight to recognize and pay tribute to them. So to those families who still have question marks in their lives, we just want to say thank you for your service. We also want to say thank you to these men and women who are going to be bringing the chairs as we call the names forward tonight. And I think that is the most telling part of this particular ceremony is when they come with great reverence and awe and respect for their fallen and missing comrade, that we stop and pause.
So this weekend, at this moment, and at this time, and in this place lets never forget those who didn’t come home, and those who went, but didn’t come home alive. God Bless you and God bless America!
Members of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, Legacy Veterans Motorcycle Club, and the 2nd Brigade Motorcycle Club prepare to do their duty to their comrades
During the ceremony, The thirty three names were slowly read aloud, the bell pealed, as someone in the background intoned “Absent, but not forgotten.” The flame was lit. The empty chair, draped with a POW/MIA shirt and a placard, identifying the missing solider that it represented, was carried forward by a fellow veteran, who once it was in place stepped up before it, and rendered a silent salute.
A chair is put into place as the crowd and color guard looks on
One final note. Ward 5 City Council Member Candy Johnson was the only City Representative to show up, the rest were not in attendance. She is to be highly commended.