KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day was established in 1979 to ensure Americans remember to stand behind those who serve and account for those who never return.
Keesler hosts multiple events throughout the week of POW/MIA Recognition Day every year including a vigil, retreat ceremony and a 12-hour run to raise awareness and pay tribute.
The run includes members from different units around base with a speaker reading off the names of past POWs and members who are MIA.
“Running for 12 hours straight shows dedication and discipline,” said Senior Airman Matthew Ketterling, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineering technician and Air Force Sergeants Association vice president. “Perseverance is something you need to have as a POW. This is a small sacrifice we can make to honor what some service members have endured.”
Keesler pays tribute year-round, naming buildings after POWs such as Air Force Capt. Howard Rudolph Cody, displaying photos and plaques around base and putting up a POW/MIA flag on base during the week of POW/MIA Recognition Day.
“Keesler has done an incredible job honoring service members who were prisoners of war, those we continually wait to come home, and our fallen heroes,” said Holly Fisher, 81st Force Support Squadron Airmen and Family Readiness Center community readiness specialist. “The events highlight the importance of honoring the service and sacrifices of our POW/MIA and their families. The events are performed so elegantly with each year surpassing the next. There is a heavy realization of the tragedy of war and the privilege it is to be an American.”
As the Air Force Families Forever coordinator, Fisher works to accommodate families of service members.
“Service members raise their right hand to defend the freedoms of our nation, and if they make the ultimate sacrifice, it is our responsibility to ensure their families are cared for,” said Fisher. “The children of the Vietnam era echo a similar story. When their loved one failed to return, and as they aged, they lost the connection with the military. It was a part of who they were, and a significant part of their loved one. They longed to keep the military connection. Honorable events, such as the POW/MIA events, maintain the connection, keeping their loved ones memory alive.”
This year, POW/MIA Recognition Day fell on the same day as the Air Force’s 73rd birthday. Ketterling believes recognition is not just a temporary responsibility of the Air Force.
“We may not think of them every day, but we need to honor our brothers and sisters who couldn’t make it back home,” said Ketterling. “Every year, service members go MIA, so we must continue to pay our respects and do what we can to protect our members.”