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2004-09-24 - Tinker memorializes POW/MIAs with monument

Three slabs of polished black granite bear stark images of despair and hope, serving as a “touchstone for the most worthy of causes” — remembering thousands of American service members taken as prisoners of war or missing in action.

The memorial dedicated Sept. 17 at Maj. Charles B. Hall Memorial Airpark is a project of the Tinker POW/MIA Committee. Members of the 457th Fighter Squadron, 301st Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard flew a missing man formation over the newly dedicated monument.

“While there is never a guarantee we will account for all who were called to serve, it is our duty, our responsibility, to remember not only those who are still missing, but those of us who may one day become lost ourselves,” Tech. Sgt. Kelly Papineau told a crowd of about 100. “This remembrance is not about the past. It’s about the day we finally achieve a full accounting … of all our comrades.”

For many American families, the wait for that accounting is decades old.
Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of POW-MIA Families, spoke at the dedication.

“It’s a unique thing you have done here at Tinker,” she told the gathering. “It’s symbolic of our nation’s commitment … to stand behind those who served past, present and future and to bring them back to us, alive or dead.

“You have built something here that will stand to show others that you have that commitment and long after we’re gone, it will be there to show others that this community and the personnel of this base worked together to make this happen.

“You have made a difference here.”

Her brother, Jim, was a Navy flier who went down during a night reconnaissance mission off the USS Coral Sea. His last known location was over a target 20 miles north of the demilitarized zone between Thanh Hoa and Vinh in North Vietnam.

“Sept. 21, 1966,” Ms. Griffiths said. “That’s a long, long time ago now and it’s really hard to believe it’s been that long.”

Lt. j.g. Mills was 26 years old and on his second tour to Vietnam. He had completed 148 combat missions over North Vietnam during his first tour as a radar intercept operator flying from the USS Midway.

“Whether or not we ever learn anything on my brother — and he is one of those truly missing cases where nothing is known — it will have been worth the effort,” she said, adding uncertainty is what continues to motivate her and others.

“I am absolutely convinced there is nothing worse than uncertainty to deal with,” she explained. “Whatever it is, you can deal with finality. You can deal with sadness, tragedy. But uncertainty continues to beg for answers.”

The league formed May 28, 1970, and developed the black and white POW/MIA flag which flies beside the new memorial.

“We developed that flag, never imagining in our wildest dreams what it would come to mean to our nation. We long ago gave it up as pertaining to the Vietnam war,” Ms. Griffiths. “It has changed the thinking of our country … What has changed has been our nation’s commitment.”

The memorial’s slabs bear photographic images of aircraft flying a missing man formation, American POWs in captivity and reuniting with their families and a quotation from President John F. Kennedy: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

The memorial is valued at more than $20,000. In 2005, plans are to add an encircling concrete wall and benches. Tinker artist R.T. Foster helped design the memorial.

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Photo: Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of POW-MIA Families, reacts to seeing the unveiled Tinker POW/MIA memorial during a ceremony at the Maj. Charles B. Hall Memorial Airpark Sept. 17. (Photo by Margo Wright)

Jeanne Grimes - Staff Writer 

(September 24, 2004)

http://www.tinkertakeoff.com/article.htm?intRecID=7367

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