With so many American soldiers held as prisoners of war or still missing in action, groups across the country are honoring those who risk lives to ensure freedom with a 24-hour memorial vigil.
In coordination with the national Prisoner of War (POW)/Missing in Action (MIA) Recognition Day, the Arnold Air Society held a memorial vigil for those American soldiers who still haven’t returned home.
The event started at 4 p.m. Wednesday with a symbolic reenactment honoring prisoners and those who are still missing in action from the Northern Colorado area, including United States Air Force Capt. Mark Giles Danielson, a CSU alumnus.
Members of the Arnold Air Society took turns every hour sitting in a bamboo cage, while a candle burned in honor of current and former POW’s.
Students from the Wing Walker Pershing Rifles alternated every hour guarding the cage with the trapped prisoner inside and the American flag.
“This shows the vigilance the country has and it makes sure we are aware they (POW/MIA) are still out there,” said Air Force ROTC Cadet Lt. Col. Leslie Tonjes.
Students rotated throughout the night ending at 4 p.m. on Thursday, allowing each of the 24 chosen soldiers an hour to be remembered.
“Although I am not personally affected, it is just about honoring the people who gave us our freedom and aren’t here to enjoy it,” said Air Force Cadet 1st Lt. Chris Heiserman.
Other events throughout the night included a free showing of “Return with Honor,” a documentary film of various POW’s from the Vietnam War. Items were also for sale, including a silver bracelet engraved with a soldier’s name, their branch and when they went missing, with proceeds benefiting the families affected.
The memorial ended in the oval on Thursday with a 21-gun salute performed by professionals from the F.E. Warren Honor Guard based in Wyoming. Seven members fired three consecutive shots in memory of the soldiers.
The salute was followed by a speech from former WWII POW Hank Cornelleson of Greeley. Cornelleson, a retired Master Sgt., spent 1,212 days in a Japanese prison camp before being liberated by U.S. troops.
Cornellson spoke to CSU and UNC Cadets, Mayor Doug Hutchinson and other visitors about his experiences in the prisoner camp and later learning to love.
“You don’t live hating, you live to love. I learned to love myself,” Cornellson said. “I don’t hate the Japanese [because] I’ve learned that hate don’t get you anywhere.”
The remaining prisoner was then escorted from the bamboo cage by his “captors,” the American flag was lowered and the national anthem was played.
“We are here to remember those who never made it home,” Tim Vedra, Cadet 1st Lt. said in his speech. “Lost but never forgotten.”
Staff writer Kayla Huddleston can be reached at email@example.com.