Thank our veterans – those currently serving, those who have served in the past
By Mark L. Stephensen II, National League of POW/MIA Families chairman
/ Published November 06, 2009
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Why is it so easy for Americans to be blasé about Veteran's Day? Why are public schools in Idaho in session? Don't get me started. What's important is the recognition and remembrance of the sacrifices made by both active-duty servicemen and women who have served our nation and worn its uniform.
But, what about our unreturned veterans? There are 1,728 unreturned veterans from the Vietnam War. What about them?
In 1970, family members, mostly wives, of the thousands of POWs and MIAs formed an organization to come together and compel our government to be more proactive and effective in dealing with them and the POW/MIA issue. This organization was formed as the National League of Families of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia, Inc., commonly known as the National League POW/MIA Families.
Yet on Veterans Day 2009, more than 40 years later, the organization still finds itself struggling to fulfill its mission of fullest possible accounting including the return of live POWs and repatriation of remains. The POW/MIA issue is long and complex, but one thing we should remember is when men and women answer the call to duty of this nation, they deserve any and all respect, honor and remembrance. Likewise, if something goes wrong, our nation is duty-bound to provide the fullest possible accounting to their families. Devotion cuts both ways.
Mountain Home AFB has its share of unreturned veterans. Some have come home, some still remain unaccounted for. My family was lucky. My father, Col. Mark L. Stephensen, U.S. Air Force, MIA/KIA/remains was returned; he was stationed here just before he began his second tour of Vietnam. He was declared missing in action on April 29, 1967. His remains were returned in April of 1988 and received a proper burial with full military honors just as he was promised. Our nation kept its promise and my family and I are grateful. But many thousands of families still wait and wonder if they have been forgotten.
The National League of POW/MIA Families remains committed to the mission of compelling our government to seek the fullest possible accounting. Our mission is as important today as it was 40 years ago. Ketchum native, Private 1st Class Bowe Bergdahl is still being held against his will in Afghanistan. We trust that our government is doing everything it can to bring him home safe. We hold his family in our thoughts and prayers.
Veterans Day means different things to different people, but we all must remember. We must never break faith with our POW/MIAs and we must all thank our veterans, both those currently serving and those who have served in the past. We must never forget. We must remember that we owe them and their families our liberty, our thanks and our love.