When someone is missing or being held against their will, there are loved ones and friends in their hometown who have to deal with this tragedy, searching diligently for them, hoping to learn of their fate, and to reunite soon.
Such tragedies can strike especially during wartime, and too often going unresolved despite our best efforts. Since 1998 National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday in September to remember and honor those US service members who were prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action.
The statistics are sobering: Over 83,000 remain missing from WWII through the Gulf Wars and other designated conflicts including over 41,000 who are presumed lost at sea. Alabamians alone suffered over 5,000 casualties in WWII with over 100 who did not return.
Randy Chapin knows well the impact of war, having spent countless hours - along with his father, Tommy Chapin, developing and maintaining the Veterans Memorial Park Museum and monument area in Florence. Visitors to this Museum often asked Randy questions which prompted him to do extensive research, spanning over 20 of his retirement years.
Volumes of information have been compiled, including in the area of POW/MIA’s. They help broaden the educational and emotional impact for visitors. For example, on the list of Alabama POW’s from WW2 we learn of the fate of a local soldier. Harold Buford White was released from a prison camp and returned to his family home on Sweetwater Avenue in Florence. It reminds us that statistics listed are not just numbers. Rather, they represent beloved sons/daughters, husbands/wives and brothers/sisters deserving of our honor.
The POW/MIA flag was created in 1971 at the request of Mary Hoff. She was one of many waiting for her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, to return home (his plane had been shot down over Laos). The flag was designed by a WWII pilot, Newt Heisley, who made it in black and white to represent the sorrow, anxiety and hope symbolized by the image of the gaunt man featured on it.
One of these flags will be dedicated with no fanfare in a brief ceremony on September 18 at 10am in Veterans Memorial Park. It will fly near the entrance to the park, just below the Stars and Stripes. Anyone wishing to come is welcome with social distancing.
As the flag is raised on this special day, we want to proclaim our gratitude for the service & sacrifice of so many - YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN - and you are still alive in our hearts.