Okinawa memorializes POW/MIAs
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. servicemembers still listed as being prisoners of war or missing in action were remembered Tuesday during two ceremonies on Okinawa.
A “Wall of Remembrance” was unveiled at Camp Lester’s U.S. Naval Hospital, with photos and biographies of 12 Navy corpsmen still listed as POW/MIAs.
And at a Camp Foster parade ground, retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Peter M. Gorczewski addressed Marines and sailors from the 3rd Transportation Support Battalion about losing Marines under his charge during three tours of duty in Vietnam and about his father being a World War II POW.
Tuesday was National POW/MIA Day. According to the Department of Defense, some 88,000 U.S. servicemembers still are listed as missing, dating back to WWII.
The wall of photos at the hospital was unveiled during a ceremony in the main lobby, said hospital spokeswoman Amanda Woodhead.
“We wanted to do something to make a difference,” said the event coordinator, Master Chief Petty Officer Mark Busam. “This was one way we could show our dedication to their remembrance.”
Woodhead said the service began with an explanation of the symbols on the traditional POW/MIA “Missing Man” table by the guest speaker, retired Lt. Cmdr. Larry Alsop.
He described the meaning of each item on the table: the white tablecloth to symbolize the purity of their motives for answering the call to duty, a single rose in a vase symbolizing the loved ones awaiting answers, a pinch of salt for the tears shed by the families, an inverted glass to show those missing cannot share the toast, she said.
Alsop then paused when explaining the meaning of a slice of lemon.
“This is to remind us of the bitter fact our comrades are not here with us today,” he said. “We may remember them as POW/MIA, but we still call them brothers.”
The group of about 40 military members, civilians and retirees then moved down the hall for the unveiling of the photos and the life histories of the 12 Navy corpsmen still classified as POW or MIA, Woodhead said.
Petty Officer 1st Class Shannon Dittlinger, a corpsman at the hospital, said he had a personal reason for attending.
“When my father was in Vietnam, one of his company members was taken prisoner of war,” she said. “My dad is my hero so I would do anything to help honor the memory of his friend.”
The wall, on the hospital’s first floor, will be up daily, Woodhead said.
During the remembrance event on Camp Foster, Gorczewski, the retired sergeant major who served in the Marine Corps for 30 years, told the young Marines and sailors about a private first class radio operator who was shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam.
Gorczewski, who earned two Bronze Stars with combat Vs and seven Purple Hearts, “told us that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of the pfc. he left behind in the jungle,” said Gunnery Sgt. Stephen Mathews. “Having somebody who’s been there and been through it all sends home the message that no one is forgotten.”
Mathews said Gorczewski reaffirmed his belief that missions should continue to locate and bring home the bodies of those left behind.
“We should never stop looking for them,” Mathews said. “If I could, I’d volunteer to go to Vietnam tomorrow to help find them.”