Originally Published: September 24, 2012 12:01 a.m.
The Central Arizona Young Marines presented the colors and gave a commemorative gift to former prisoners of war and the families of those missing in action, during the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day Ceremony on Friday at the Bob Stump Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
"We are honored to have you with us today," said Donna Jacobs, medical director of the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System, to the POWs, families of those missing in action, and all veterans at the ceremony. "Thank you. Our country is indebted to you for what you did for what you endured. We also pay special tribute to the thousands of military families tormented by uncertainty due to the loss of loved ones whose whereabouts remain unknown."
The ceremony was organized by local youth and teen volunteers at the VA Medical Center and led by Kevin Spillman, a Prescott High School student.
"Remember. This table set for one is small. It symbolizes the frailty of one prisoner against his oppressors," Spillman said. "The table cloth is white. It symbolizes the purity of their intentions to respond to their country's call to arms. Remember. The single rose displayed in a vase reminds us of the families and loved ones who keep faith awaiting their return."
"Remember. The red ribbon tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn on the lapel and breasts of thousands who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting for our missing," Spillman said. "A slice of lemon is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate. Remember. There is salt upon the bread plate, symbolic of the family's tears as they wait. Remember. The glass is inverted. They cannot toast with us today.
"The chair is empty. They are not here. Remember our friends," Spillman said. "They are the ones we love - who love life and freedom as we do. Please honor and remember them."
Samantha Baca, a youth volunteer at the VA, delivered the invocation, Cooper Temple said the pledge of allegiance, and Melody Startzell sang "The Star Spangled Banner. All are students at Prescott High School.
After a moment of silence to remember those still missing in action, Jacobs reminded the audience that "Freedom in not free" is engraved on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"We're here today to pay tribute to very special American heroes who, unlike anyone else, fully understand the meaning behind these words," Jacobs said. "In ceremonies like this one across the nation, we remember with profound gratitude our country's former prisoners-of war. Our nation's regard for their sacrifice is deep and abiding."
The Prescott High School Show Choir sang "Our America " and several other patriotic songs during the ceremony.
Then keynote speakers Catherine Hoekstra and Keoni Bermoy, seniors at Tri-City College Preparatory High School paid tribute to veterans.
Catherine's grandfather was a Morse code radio operator in World War II and shared his story with his family.
Keoni's grandfather was an officer in the Vietnam War, his grandmother was in the U.S. Army and they met through the military. Keoni's other family members served in the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy.
More than 73,000 Americans were listed as missing in action in World War II, 7,900 in Korea, hundreds during the Cold War, and nearly 2,000 in Vietnam, Jacobs said.
Modern battlefields also present challenges for full accountability, but America will not rest until each and every hero is accounted for, Jacobs said.