Annual Candle Light Vigil honors those still missing in action from Vietnam
Clarksville, TN – It is a solemn occasion when a nation gathers together to honor its soldiers as we do each year on Memorial Day. It is important not only to honor those who lived to come home, but even more importantly to remember those who did not.
This was a solemn year as there remains of two soldiers who had been missing in action had been returned, that leaves 30 from the State of Tennessee who have yet to return home. Each one was honored in a ceremony held in front of the William O. Beach Civic Center at Veterans Plaza in Clarksville Tennessee on Sunday evening.
The Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 396 holds this Memorial Day Vigil each year to remember the men and women who were left behind in Vietnam when American forces left that country in 1975. The Local vigil was first held in 1989 the same year that Chapter 396 was chartered. They consider it an honored duty to call the roll each year so that these lost bothers and sisters are not forgotten.
The first reading contained 43 names on the roster, since then 13 remains have been returned the latest in September of 2011. This was their 22 year performing this solemn duty. The colors were posted by an honor guard composed of Vietnam Veterans. 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. Scott Witt delivered the invocation.
The guest speakers for this year was Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, State Senator Tim Barnes, and the keynote speaker was Van Stokes. Also on hand was State Rep. Joe Pitts and his wife Cindy; County commissioners Robert Nichols, John Guinness, and Joe Creek; Clarksville City Councilwoman Kaye Jones; State Senate Candidate Dr. Mark Green; Jerry Rivers the Director of the Montgomery County Veterans Service Office, and several Gold Star Wives.
During the ceremony, The thirty 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 Vietnam Veteran who once it was in place stepped up before it, and rendered a silent salute.
At the end of the ceremony the chairs for the two soldiers who were returned were respectfully retired. They were USAF. Maj. Woodrow W. Wilson of Clarksville, TN whose remains were returned in October 2010, and Sp4 Marvin F. Phillips of Gruetli-Langer, TN whose remains were returned on September 26th 2011.
Given by Reverend Scott Witt of Gateway Christian Church
Oh heavenly Father thank you for every good and perfect gift. Thank your heavenly father for the gift of freedom that we as Americans enjoy. Thank you for the brave men and women who fought and defended this nation with their lifeblood so that we could come in freedom, and we can give thanks to you without fear.
Oh heavenly father, thank you so very much for every gift that you’ve given. Thank you for the men and women who have served and given their lives in thank you for those who did not return home at all. I thank you for the families, I thank you for their sacrifices as well.
I thank you most of all for the sacrifice of your own son Jesus Christ, it is in his name we pray, amen!
State Senator Tim Barnes
Thank you Gary.
I just want to say that it is appropriate that we gather on this Memorial Day weekend, and remember those who have yet to return. I am struck every year when that bell rings, by the words “Gone But Not Forgotten,” which we will hear again this evening.
And I want to let you all know that it is important that you show up to this, and I appreciate you’re coming out to show the families and those who still have painful memories of their losses that they are not forgotten, that is what this weekend is about. And that is what I think we should all pause to do is think about the sacrifices, the sacrifices not only of our military personnel but the families who had to suffer in some cases for many many years of not having these remains returned.
Thank you, and thank you for coming out.
Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan
It is always an honor to come and be with you on this night before we celebrate Memorial Day which is tomorrow, and I want you to know that this is a very special night and I’m proud to be here too I those who not only gave the lives, but who did not come home.
And I want all of you to know that every day when I look out my window now at City Hall, I am proud to display the POW MIA flag that hangs directly beneath the United States flag. It is something that I know that many of you have worked hard to make sure that that was displayed. And I was proud to have been part of making sure that display is outside City Hall.
I think it reminds us each and every day of those that served, those that gave the lives, and those of the left in that void but are never forgotten. Because as I always say what I come to you at this event they may be gone, but they are never forgotten.
On behalf of the city of Clarksville and the Clarksville City Council let me tell you that we appreciate everything that you’ve done both your love ones and all of you as family who are here today, to make sure that we never forget the sacrifices that your loved ones made for all of our freedoms.
I am humbled to be here. I really truly appreciate the opportunity to be with you tonight at the special day. Yes, it was a day of emotions as Mr. Ezell said. The Austin Peay Baseball Team won a championship today and that’s always a good thing.
But as we move down the road we take a look at good things and important things, while this was good today, what we are doing right now is important, very very important as we pay tribute to those men and women on the eve of Memorial Day who have given the ultimate for our country.
As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who reported for duty at Paris Island South Carolina on July 7th, 1970. I look back on that time with a profound sense of respect and honor, little knowing that 42 years later we would stand in one of the greatest communities that I can think of, to pay honor like we are tonight.
Someone once said that we can only understand where we are, by looking back at where we’ve been, and I think there is some truth to that. Looking back at the years of Vietnam and the 42 years since this speakers induction into the United States Marine Corps, that sagely piece of advice seems to make great sense.
You see it helps me understand that we are here today because of those who came before us, we stand on the shoulders of those of great people. After working for soldiers and their families with this Department of Defense for the past 36 years I much better understand today, then I did 42 years ago, the sacrifices of those who gave their lives on battlefields far from our shores in jungles, on beachheads, and on hilltops in foreign lands like Southeast Asia.
Together I think we can understand what it means to have two come home to rest decades later in with the score plus ten still behind to deepen our appreciation even more, together we come to understand that time does little to diminish the loss of those that we have loved.
They say time is a great healer, but it cannot diminish the loss of those that have been left behind, that we have lost. But time still brings us hope, and it brings us hope back to the concept of home.
You know they say that in the military sometimes the challenge is to keep hope alive; the challenge is to provide order where no order exists, and the challenge is to do the right thing in the face of adversity
Time does help us to understand some things better I believe. My vantage point like yours is different at this stage in the road than it was during the Vietnam era. Time helps us to understand some things better, maybe not all things. But it helps us to understand number one that the strength of this great country is our Armed Forces, it has always been that way. It should always be that way.
We come from the times of a conscription military, when the selective service system would draft gem men who were physically capable and not in school. I know I received a letter like that from the selective service system one time. They don’t send them out anymore.
We come from a time where every Marine was a basic rifleman regardless of your military occupational specialty. And every service member was simply another cog in a big mighty machine to serve the people of this great country of ours. In some respects its still that way.
Years ago word from the front was slow, it was difficult, and today our C2, our command and control centers can stay connected to the military in ways that were plain and simply unimaginable in our past.
Today our military is a value-based institution where we try hard to provide a standing a living commensurate with those who are being served in this country. Today in spite of multiple deployments and a continuing battles in the global war against terrorism I military continues to be the backbone and the strength of our country. And it’s to no small tribute to those who have come before.
I’ve had the privilege of traveling with the service members widely and in different portions of the world. I’ve traveled with them from all branches of the military the Army and the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps. And I can tell you that wherever we go, and whatever the cause we are looked upon with a profound sense of respect, wherever that might be.
I’ve won the USA colors in places Like Camaguey, Cuba, I’ve never been to Gitmo, Guantánamo Bay but I have been to the heart of Cuba on more than one occasion with USA written across my back.
I have been to the country of Iran twice in the past five years, and have walked the streets there with USA written across my back, and I’ve talked with the Iranians and I can tell you from personal experience the profound respect that they have for our Armed Forces; its the respect that they have for the strength of the greatest country on this earth.
Not only this time help us to understand the strength of the country is Armed Forces but time helps us to also understand that the strength of Armed Forces is the service members.
We come from a time when our service members were perhaps under-appreciated, and in no doubt caught up in the midst of a fractured country dealing with assassinations, civil rights, and a rebellion across college campuses.
I know that time, I can feel that time even today. Even today the memory, the feelings, and in many respects the pain lingers, and that’s why it’s difficult for me personally to turn on television and watch the accounts of what took place during that period because if you were there you know, you understand, and you don’t need someone on television to explain it to you. And you don’t need someone on television to explain it to you.
We come from a time when our service members will often the targets of abuse, many times by our own citizens. The scurge of the country was taken out upon some service members during some of these periods. And only one time, but in a memorable time, when I wore the uniform and I attempted to go into a restaurant and the person at the door asked me if I was in the military, and when I said “I am,” they responded “We don’t serve military here!” You don’t have to watch television to know what that feels like.
Today I’m proud that our service members are highly trained and motivated to go forth and do the nations business, and whenever I am in their midst in this country or wherever I may be I’m always impressed by the military bearing, and the manner in which they carry themselves. I can spot a service member in an airport, even though they’re wearing civilian clothes by the way they handle themselves. And I’m proud to be associated with them.
Only a few months ago I spent a week at Camp Pendleton in California back around my Marines again. And while there in the midst of soldiers sailors and airmen I had this tremendous sense of pride even though we when the midst of the highly protected area, the biggest Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton, California. But I can assure you from the deepest part of my heart, that the individual service member as it was during the Vietnam era, today, is the strength of our military, not the systems, not the technology, but it is the individual that makes this military work!
Time also helps us to understand that the strength of our service members, just like the strength of our country is the military; and just like the strength of our military is a service member, the strength of the service member is support of their family, and the community in which they reside!
Someone once said that it takes a village to raise a child and their is some truth to that certainly, but I would build on that thought by simply saying it takes a whole community to support a service members. And a day like today brings it home to mind in a deeper sense of worry that some days do.
Sure we have her struggles today just like our forefathers had, just like generations before us had, and especially in light of some of our economic and sociopolitical challenges that we face today there is no doubt about it America is filled with challenges. But as I travel this great country of ours, I am reminded that we are most fortunate to live in a land that provides the greatest level of freedom and opportunity to its citizens. And when I got off an airplane in Nashville and head back up I24, there has never been a time when I haven’t thanked the good Lord and been so glad that I was coming home to Clarksville Tennessee, a place like this in the United States of America.
The strength of our service members is the family and the community which they reside in your mind me tonight that begins right here, it begins in this plaza with each one of us and is duplicated and its multiplied in places like this around this country of ours; with people who have stopped to remember how we got here; where we are today; and where were striving to go tomorrow and the days after with this country.
In closing I often asked myself what makes America work, what makes us who we are. While so many other countries around the world seem to be struggling with some the basic issues of governance and representation,fairness and freedom, liberty and justice, and human rights! My answer is very very simple, what makes America work is a matter women who have given it all, so that we those of us are gathered at night and the multitude that are around us and towns across the country can live with dignity and peace and grace.
It’s those who went to distant shores and never returned, to whom owe our gratitude and remembrance. And it’s those together on days like this to remember them and express our thanks for whom we’re thankful as well.
Below are the names of the missing Tennesseans. We offer our fervent hope that they too all find their way home once more.
Two American soldiers who were Missing in Action in Vietnam were returned since the previous year.
About Van Stokes
He presently serves as the Chief of Recreation and the Deputy Director of the Welfare and Recreation Directorate for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Following graduation from Marietta College he served in the United States Marine Corps from 1970-1973 as an aviation structural mechanic.
Van has over 35 years in the field of serving soldiers and their families as a civilian with the Department of the Army. After receiving his Masters degree in sports of ministration from our university, he began his career as a civilian sports administrator for the Army in Europe in 1976 where he served as assistant Chief Of Army Sports in Europe until 1985. Since that time, he is so soldiers and their families in multiple roles at Fort Campbell.
He is a sports commentator with Austin Peay Athletics and serves as treasurer for USA wrestling, the national governing board for the Olympic sport of wrestling. He is a former board chair for the Clarksville area YMCA and currently serves on the national committee for membership standards for the YMCA of the USA.
During the past two decades he has served in leadership positions in international sports competitions throughout the world to include Sicily, France, Croatia, Turkey, Russia, Cuba, India, Iran, and Argentina he also served as an assistant producer for the wrestling venue in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and was recognized as the man of the year by USA wrestling in 2008.
As a certified facilitator and strategic planner, Van has been active in the field of organizational behavior and leadership motivation. He and Lynn, his wife of 41 years, are the parents of three grown sons and have three grandchildren.
TopicsCindy Pitts, Jerry Rivers, Joe Pitts, Kim McMillan, Mark Green, Memorial Day, POW/MIA, Tim Barnes, Van Stokes, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 396
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