By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
Fifty-three missing in action veterans have finally been brought home so far this year. That’s according to the Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, which lists the 53 veterans on its “Recently Accounted-For” page.
Technician Fifth Grade Oneal Rush of the U.S. Army didn’t come home after an aircraft crash in Burma on Aug. 19, 1944. Rush was accounted for on Sept. 26 and was buried with full military honors last month in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina. There’s Capt. Henry S. White and Staff Sgt. Thomas L. Meek, both of the U.S. Marine Corps, who were lost on July 21, 1943, when their SBD-4 Dauntless aircraft dive-bomber crashed on Mavea Island in the Republic of Vanuatu. They were accounted for on July 3 and will be buried as a group with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael B. Judd of the U.S. Navy went missing on June 30, 1967, in Thua Thien-Hue Province, South Vietnam. Judd was accounted for on Feb. 27 and was buried with full military honors on July 15 in Arlington National Cemetery.
These are but a few of the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice and only returned home for a proper burial or had their families given a full accounting this year. Imagine waiting almost 70 years to know what happened to your loved one who went missing in service to his or her country. Then remember that there are still more than 83,000 veterans unaccounted for from past conflicts. Almost 74,000 of those unaccounted for are from the Greatest Generation that fought in World War II. There have also been 42,000 American servicemen and women who have been taken as prisoners of war.
On Friday, three days before Veterans Day, we held a ceremony in City Hall dedicating a POW-MIA chair that will remain at City Hall to serve as a permanent reminder to all of our veterans who were either prisoners of war or have gone missing in action. We should never forget their sacrifice, the promise to account for all of our veterans, and never abandon our mission to bring each and every last one of them home.
It’s a mission with a dwindling timetable for some. The Department of Defense’s POW and Missing Personnel Office holds annual briefings for families of veterans who are missing in action. Since 1996, attendance has grown from around 200 people attending these family updates to over 1,000 people in each of the past three years. Our time is running out to bring the closure to our Blue and Gold Star families, particularly those whose family members are among the almost 74,000 still unaccounted for in World War II.
The POW-MIA chair that now sits in City Hall is not only a constant reminder to everyone about the sacrifices made by our veterans, but the sacrifices made by the families of veterans. Those families must endure their loved ones’ deployments, waiting for the next phone call, another letter in the mail, a chime of a video chat to temporarily wash away the fear that the worst has come to pass. Some of these families hear the worst news. And some of these families must endure not only the loss of a loved one, but never being able to bring them home, not knowing their loved one’s fate.
When we dedicated the Founders Rink last month, Col. Richard Johnson pointed out to those in attendance that the City of Somerville Honor Roll that sits outside Somerville City Hall, lists the names of Somerville residents who served in World War II, as well as some who served in the Korean War. Col. Johnson suggested at the time that with Veterans Day coming up, residents should visit the Honor Roll, and I’d like to make that same suggestion.
Despite facing Highland Avenue, upon stepping inside that memorial and surrounded by the names of Somerville veterans, a reflective quiet falls over a person. As you read the names, your eyes will eventually fall on a quote from Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright. I hope his words resonated during Friday’s POW-MIA chair ceremony, on Veterans Day and will continue to resonate every day through our community: “In gratitude for all those who paid the price of victory, we now dedicate ourselves to that cause for which they gave their last whole measure of devotion. Lord of hosts be with us yet, lest we forget.”