Area residents took some time on a rainy evening to honor, recognize and remember those who were held against their will or didn’t return home.
About 80 people, almost twice the number who attended last year’s POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony, braved the weather and took time to remember friends and loved ones at ceremonies at the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans at the courthouse.
As he sat on the front row at the memorial, 1966 Columbus High School graduate Dave Clason was reflecting back on his best friend, Denny Chomel.
“He was a big, strong, strapping, good-looking kid who was full of good nature” Clason said. “That kid would have been something.”
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But after Chomel became one of five soldiers who vanished after a June 11, 1967, helicopter crash, Clason has spent every Christmas hoping his buddy would surprise him by popping up alive and well.
“When Denny disappeared all of the sudden, I was left with a big hole,” Clason said. “Honestly, there have been times when I’ve wanted to go to Vietnam and search for him myself. That is a real desire of mine.”
Since the names of 45 local residents held captive or declared missing in action were first read last year, 10 more names have been added to the list.
The latest is John E. Walker, a former Reliance Electric employee and World War II veteran who died in 2010 at the age of 88.
While serving as a P38 pilot, Walker was shot down over France and spent the next 10 months in a German prisoner of war camp until freed by the Russian Army.
Although Walker would write of his experiences as a POW late in life, he hardly mentioned a word of it to his family, according to his daughter, Betsy Walker Larson.
“He had a great memory, but the only thing he ever told me is that he was forced to eat things he normally wouldn’t eat,” Walker said.
Although Walker’s name was added to the list after the programs were printed, his name was read at the ceremony.
Through most of our country’s history, it has been government policy to keep a low profile on the POW/MIA issue, according to the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
“I don’t know why,” said local event coordinator Bob Miller. “Maybe, they were trying to hide the numbers or something.”
But after family members of missing Vietnam War soldiers were urged not to discuss their concerns publicly, a backlash began to emerge in the mid 1960s, the league website stated.
In October 1968, the first POW/MIA story was published, motivating families to begin communicating with each other and eventually forming organizations, the league stated.
But while most Americans don’t think much about the POW/MIA issue these days, surviving family members who can never receive closure after the disappearance of a loved one — and wonder what really happened.
While there are a number of different POW/MIA organizations today, most have the same objective: find all remains to bring all families closure.
Over the past five decades, the remains of more than 700 Americans killed in Southeast Asia had been returned and identified.
During Friday’s ceremony, the names of the local POWs and MIAs were read and the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard conducted a rifle volley in their honor. As those who attended left, the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums played “Scotland the Brave.”
The programs for the ceremony proclaimed “You are not forgotten.”