Ceremony honors prisoners of war and missing soldiers
On the heels of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C., this year's annual POW/MIA ceremony in Monett was especially poignant. The third annual ceremony honoring military personnel who are still designated as prisoners of war or missing in action was sponsored by Rolling Thunder Missouri Chapter #3.
Guest speaker, Col. Michelle Hovland, J2/6 from the Missouri Army National Guard, is a self-described advocate of veterans and continues her efforts on their behalf in her professional capacity.
"Other than Old Glory, the POW/MIA flag is the only flag to fly over the White House and has, until this administration, flown in that position every day since 1982," Hovland said. "Since its inception in 1980, the flag, a distinctive emblem of POW/MIAs from Vietnam, has come to represent our missing men and women from all wars."
Hovland said the distinctive flag has been ruled to be public domain and is a symbol of a concerned nation for its missing military personnel. Today, there remains over 2,000 military personnel designated as prisoners of war or missing in action from the Vietnam War.
"Your selfless service did not end when you took the uniform off," Hovland said. "Veterans still serve America by not forsaking their oaths and values, unwilling to be wrapped in the folds of the American flag and not feel responsible to bear the burden of defending her."
On this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against America, Hovland urged veterans to again take up the baton for America's freedoms.
"Let us not forget that we are at war," Hovland said. "We will be a nation at war long after our troops have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"No other country has triumphed so long as a republic with a living, breathing Constitution shaped around freedom, liberty and justice for all. Yet we are hated, scorned and plotted against for our very way of life."
Hovland urged those in attendance to be vigilant and in a steady state of awareness for international terrorists, home grown terrorists and the lone wolves who may act against the interests of the nation.
"For their numbers are ever increasing," Hovland said, "just as are their attempts to attack the country that raised them, fed them and educated them."
In a cooperative effort, the state will initialize the Missouri Reserve Force, calling on all honorable discharged veterans to coordinate and organize a responsive force to respond to a massive disaster, manmade or natural.
"You have proven your commitment," Hovland said. "You are already flag-waving, gun-owning, freedom-fighting defenders of the US Constitution. You have carried the burden of defense of this great nation.
"But I am calling on you once again to make a stand for our families and fellow citizens in the state of Missouri, she continued. "This will be a non-paid, non-equipped force, ready and organized that could be activated when law enforcement and the uniformed forces are completely saturated and overwhelmed.
"The threat is real," Hovland continued. "It is not a matter of if, but when. If history repeats itself, Afghan rebels will retaliate against the U.S. for invading their country, just like they have previously done in Russia, when they went after their most vulnerable targets possible, attacking and murdering innocent children while they were at school."
Teresa Stark, mother of fallen soldier Christopher Stark, who was killed in the line of duty in February of this year, spoke of her appreciation for the veterans being honored.
"Rolling Thunder has represented POWs and MIAs throughout Missouri and the nation," Stark said. "There are three families from our communities that I think of: William Edmondson, of Cassville; Dwight , of Joplin; and Thomas Wolfe, of Monett."
Stark went on to outline the events of the night that two Army representatives arrived on her doorstep to give her the devastating news that her son, Christopher, had been killed in action.
"They don't visit unless it is at that level," Stark said. "I immediately thought of two people: a dear family friend, Kirk Little, who was serving in Afghanistan at that time, and my son, Christopher, who was also serving in Afghanistan.
"As they told me that Christopher had been killed in action, I recalled a phone conversation we had just the week before," Stark said. "Although a bomb specialist is not what a mother would pick for her child, Christopher was at the top of his game. He was so excited about the military.
"He chuckled at one point and said, 'I'm IED. Bombs is what I do,'" Stark continued. "He said he was where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to be doing and he wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world."
Stark said she had no regrets.
"Because of my personal relationship with God, I am at peace," she said. "I know I will see Christopher again.
"But the families of POWs and MIAs don't know," she continued. "They have had no news of finality. As difficult as it was for my family, I can't imagine what it has been like for the families of POWs and MIAs. They can't have closure."
Stark went on to say how the community's response to her son's death and the support her family has received was immeasurable.
"I would not be able to stand here today without my faith, my family and the support of the community," Stark said. "Chris loved what he was doing. I hope each and every one of you can reflect on your lives and be able to say that you love what you are doing.
"I thank these veterans and the sacrifices and pain that they have endured," she said. "I respect you in so many ways."
Hovland presented a purple heart to Specialist Fifth Class Orville Gene Dove, for wounds inflicted during his service and dedication in serving the country during the Vietnam War.
Also honored was Alvin Schad, a Monett resident who had been held in a Chinese prison camp in North Korea for over two years.
Schad did not wish to speak of those experiences, stating, "Thank you. I'm glad to be home," as he accepted the plaque presented by John Williams, president of Missouri's Rolling Thunder chapter.