HELENA – A ceremony was held in Helena’s Memorial Park Friday morning to honor Montana servicemembers who are still unaccounted for.
Veterans read off the names of 53 Montanans listed as prisoners of war or missing in action – mostly from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. An empty chair was set up, covered with the POW/MIA flag, to memorialize the people who weren’t able to return home.
“This ceremony is a mere token of our appreciation, and to continue to strive for their return,” said Ray Read, director of the Montana Military Museum.
The third Friday of September is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Read presented proclamations from President Donald Trump and Gov. Steve Bullock, commemorating the day.
Those who attended the Helena ceremony said it was important for them to show that these lost servicemembers haven’t been forgotten.
“We have to remember the sacrifices that our service personnel made over all these years for our country – the nurses, the doctors, the military,” said James Heffernan, who served in the Marines during the Korean War. “It’s extremely important, even though you get up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, to make it down here on this chilly day. It’s an honor.”
Heffernan said this type of commemoration is especially important for the families of those lost.
“So long as we remember it, the families feel that they have not lost their son or daughter in vain,” he said.
Read said the names of seven Montanans have been removed from the list in recent years, after their remains were identified and returned home.
Groups like the Montana POW/MIA Awareness Association and the American Legion of Montana helped put Friday’s ceremony together.
2019 will be the 40th anniversary of the first national POW/MIA commemorations. Heffernan said he wants to see more people take part in Helena’s ceremonies next year.
“Hopefully there will be other people that’ll stand up and take over and run with it,” he said.
- Reported by Jonathon Ambarian