A ROTC student dressed in an olive green jumpsuit crouched in a small, camouflage-draped bamboo cage no bigger than three feet in any direction on the Oval Thursday.
A crowd of about 100 people gathered in front of the cage to respect the sacrifice that many prisoners of war make, sometimes for many years.
In the audience, white gloves covered hands that were folded behind straight backs as a crowd of CSU’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets stood silent at attention in the Oval Thursday afternoon.
Their austere expressions blended with stiff blue uniforms in the diffuse light streaming into the grassy area.
The annual event, held on the third Friday of September as part of POW/MIA Recognition Day, the entire Department of Defense honors and remembers armed forces members who lost their lives while serving, who are missing or who have been prisoners of war.
As part of the vigil, every hour for the 24 hours between 4 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. today, a new volunteer cadet is placed in the bamboo cage.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Schultz spoke to nearly two dozen civilians and CSU’s ROTC population. Schultz is the former commander of the 140th wing of the Colorado Air National Guard at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
“It’s just extremely important that we recognize people who have served in this way as prisoners of war,” Schultz said.
Though not a POW himself, Schultz referenced his 36-year Air Force career during which he talked with many who had been a POW or knew soldiers who were MIA.
“It’s maybe even more important to recognize that there are thousands of people out there that died and have not been identified . and families can’t have closure until they know what happened to their loved ones,” he said.
After the opening Formal Retreat ceremony, in which the POW/MIA and U.S. flags were taken down from a flagpole for transportation, 15 loud gunshots pierced the quiet air as five members of the F.E. Warren Honor Guard from Wyoming performed a three-volley salute.
Air Force ROTC Capt. Ryan Anderson hopes that through this event, CSU students will “get a better appreciation of what the military does for them,” he said.
“It’s important because first of all it’s showing respect and honor to the people who have given so much before us,” Anderson said. “It’s important on a college campus because it’s important to understand the history and sacrifices that folks have made.”
Jon Datsko, the commander of Arnold Air Society at CSU, the student group that sponsors the annual POW/MIA memorial, highlighted their importance in his speech.
“They are called strong, brave and courageous,” he said. “The tortures and harsh experiences these individuals have endured are among the worst aspects of war. These patriots are unable to share their stories.”
Air Force ROTC cadet Jamie Warfield sees this year’s event as important and timely.
“Given the time and circumstance that America is in right now, I think it is so important that people be aware that people are still out there,” she said. “It means a lot to me personally. We do need to honor those who are overseas fighting for us right now and for our freedom.”
In addition to CSU’s Air Force ROTC cadets, others also came to pay tribute.
“I came to support not only my boyfriend who’s in Detachment 90 [ROTC at CSU], but also it’s important to remember people who have served and pay respect to any POWs or any people who are still missing in action,” said Alana Ewton, an Arapahoe Community College student taking online classes.
“In the back of my mind it always says to me that this is a realistic situation, this could happen to anybody who’s serving,” she said.
As for any opposition to the event, no protests were staged, and the ceremony was uninterrupted.
“You’re going to find that [anti-war sentiment] typically anywhere you go,” Capt. Anderson said, adding that politics are usually kept out of these types of ceremonies. “This is at an individual level. It’s intended to honor those individuals who have sacrificed.”
Datsko summed up the sentiments of the ceremony in his speech.
“We will always support you and you will not be forgotten,” he said.
The 24-hour vigil is scheduled to end at 4 p.m. today, when the last POW representative will be let out of the bamboo cage on the Lory Student Center Plaza.
Next to the cage, Air Force ROTC cadets will be selling POW/MIA merchandise, of which proceeds will benefit the American Ex-Prisoners of War organization.
Editor in Chief Aaron Montoya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.