Veterans Day 2012 is a time to remember and reflect. The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia will finish reading the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. as this day comes to an end. There are 52,282 names engraved on the wall and of those, 1,655, are still unaccounted for. Families, friends and fellow soldiers are still waiting to know what happened to these men and if their remains will ever be returned to the United States where they belong.
The League of Families originated with the wife of a high ranking prisoner of war in the late '60s. The first prisoner of war/missing in action story was published in 1968 making the public aware of the issue. Obtaining the release of prisoners, the fullest possible accounting of the missing, and the repatriation of all recoverable remains is the sole goal of the league. The Vietnamese government signed the Paris Peace Agreement, Laos and Cambodia did not. Areas of Laos and Cambodia were under direct Vietnamese supervision. To date, the Vietnamese are still retaining records and remains of our servicemen, hoping that they can be used as leverage for diplomatic status and economic aid. The trickles of stored remains and archived documents transferred to our government are evidence of this. The climate of Southeast Asia is not favorable to the preservation of remains, and with the limited number of search and recovery teams that our government has, time is of the essence.
One of these missing men who has been declared killed in action, body not recovered is Chief Warrant Officer Rainer S. Ramos from Bellingham. He was the pilot of a Huey shot down in Quang Tin Province, Vietnam on Jan. 9,1968. There were four crewmembers on the helicopter, only one set of remains was recovered. These families feel the pain of losing their loved one every day. One mother lives in Oregon and I pray that her son's remains will come home before she passes on, and also for a sister in Illinois of another crew member.
You may not be a family member or even know one of these men who has not returned home, but there are things you can do to show your support for these families: Purchase a POW/MIA flag and fly it with the United States flag from your home or business; wear a bracelet with a missing man's name on it; place a magnetized POW/MIA ribbon on your vehicle; write to our Congressional representatives; support veterans' activities; and the easiest of all, remember our veterans each day with a moment of silence or reflection. Please take some time and visit the National League of Families webpage at pow-miafamilies.org.
I wish to close this column with a quote from a letter sent home by Maj. Michael Davis O'Donnell, killed in action March 24, 1970:
"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you... and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go... be not ashamed to say you loved them."
Susan Johanson of Bellingham is a member of The National League of POW/MIA families.