By Lt. Col. Frederick Helmer, SMC Public Affairs
/ Published September 23, 2009
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base kicked off their 2nd Annual POW/MIA Recognition Day observance, Thursday, with a small ceremony followed by a torch relay run from Redondo Beach to the Base's running track in El Segundo.
The ceremony officially began a 24-hour torch-lit vigil held to honor the nation's prisoners of war, remember those who remain missing-in-action, and reaffirm the country's commitment to bring them home to their families.
"The run is part of the larger national observance of POW/MIA Recognition Day, which is held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans facilities across the nation and around the world," said Air Force Captain Gina Peterson, one of the base's lead organizers for the event.
This year the conclusion of the 24-hour run coincided with the national observance of POW/MIA Recognition Day as well as the Air Force's 62nd Birthday.
Wearing Air Force blue running shorts and freshly printed POW/MIA commemorative tee shirts, four pairs of runners from the base's Global Positioning Systems Wing assembled at Redondo Beach Veterans Park in preparation for the approximately 9 1/2-mile run to the base where the last pair of runners would hand off the torch to assembled teammates. The remaining runners would, in turn, keep the flame moving around the base's track for the next 24-hours covering approximately 112 miles.
"Last year, over 180 runners from 16 organizations across the base participated in our inaugural event," said Col. David W. Madden, commander, Global Positioning Systems Wing. "This year, local veteran organizations and ROTC detachments will join the base to take turns over the next 24-hours to carry a torch-lit vigil, shining the home light that burned in the hearts of all our prisoners of war during their days of captivity."
Colonel Madden's wing was the base's event sponsor this year and is the organization responsible for development, launch and sustainment of the Global Positioning Satellite System.
In his address to the assembled crowd, Colonel Madden said that many POWs or MIAs have returned after days, months or years of being denied their freedom in foreign prisons, often unaccounted for or illegally held. Others died while still prisoners in a foreign land. According to the colonel, 88 thousand military members have yet to be accounted for or returned to their loved ones since World War II.
"It is for all these heroes that we pray today," he said. "Let us keep in our hearts and minds every day, remembering that while we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, many of our bravest have endured the trials and tribulations of captivity, and many have still not been granted the freedom of returning to their homeland. In honoring them, we honor one of the attributes that makes this country great - selfless service in the name of freedom."
Also in attendance were senior base officials and local government representatives who expressed their support for this enduring effort to include Redondo Beach City Treasurer Ernie O'Dell; Field Representative for Assembly Member Ted Lieu, Candace Nafissi; Deputy District Director for Congresswoman Jane Harman, Jessica Duboff; Field Representative for State Senator Jenny Oropeza, Veronica Zendejas, as well as other military and civilian community members, defense industry partners and veterans.
Twenty-four hours later, in a somber yet touching closing ceremony, the POW/MIA torch was run in to the courtyard of the General Bernard Schriever Space Complex on Los Angeles Air Force Base where it was greeted by senior military and civilian guests along with assembled members of the base to include Space and Missile Systems Center Vice Commander, Brig. Gen. Samuel Greaves.
Guest speaker, prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles and former POW, Retired Air Force Col. Kenneth Hughey, told of his captivity in the Vietnam prison camp nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton." The colonel spoke about the three people he admired the most in his life: his wife, and two former Vietnam POWs, Brig. Gen. James Robinson Risner and Capt. Lance Sijan; all who had kept the faith with him during his captivity.
Colonel Hughey suggested we should all strive to develop the intellectual, physical and spiritual elements in each of our lives in an effort to reach our full potential. It was these attributes he credits with motivating and sustaining him and his fellow captives during their imprisonment.
A Pentagon ceremony for National POW/MIA Recognition Day was also held on Sept. 18. This ceremony featured troops from each of the military services. The President issued a proclamation commemorating the observances and reminding the nation of those Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country.
This observance is one of six days throughout the year that Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families' POW/MIA flag. The others are Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. The flag is to be flown at major military installations, national cemeteries, all post offices, VA medical facilities, the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the official offices of the secretaries of state, defense and veterans affairs, the director of the selective service system and the White House.