When council member Harlon Reece realized this year's Prisoner's of War/Missing in Action National Recognition Day would fall on a Town Council regular session, he decided it would be the perfect opportunity for the town to recognize war veterans.
"When I saw [the date], I thought, why don't we do this," said Reece, a Marine Corps veteran. "So I made the proposition first to the Council and then pitched it to the Post ."
As a member of the American Legion Post 184 that includes about 250 members from Herndon and Reston, Reece has participated in prior POW/MIA vigils that the post has held on the Town Green, but he said this year he wanted to do more.
"It's just very important that we never forget," said Reece, a Vietnam and Korean War veteran. "There's still so many [soldiers] that are unaccounted for, and so many families that will never have that closure."
Although he said he doesn't know anyone personally who is MIA from the wars in which he served, Reece said this national day of recognition has special meaning because he does have a friend who was a Marine Corps pilot that was a POW.
"To me, we owe it to these vets and their families that we keep that issue alive and encourage the government to search," said Reece.
John Rogosky, commander of Post 184 and an Army Vietnam veteran, said he thinks it's because of the American Legion's more than 3 million veterans nationwide pushing the government that they are still working to find the missing soldiers.
"With 3 million members, they're able to talk to senators and politicians," said Rogosky, adding that the current situation in Iraq has seen positive results in the search for POWs/MIAs.
"It's a good thing that they're taking the MIAs and trying to find them, " he said. "In the past wars they would write off [MIAs] as a cost expense of war."
The Department of Defense Web site states that as of July 19, 2004 there are currently 1,855 Americans listed as missing or unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
USUALLY THE NATIONAL POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed by the Pentagon on the third Friday in September, but because it falls on Rosh Hashanah this year, it has been moved to Sept. 14.
Dave Kirby, Herndon resident and member of Post 184, said he would like to see the Town Council make this day an annual Town Council event, adding further recognition could cause residents to push the government to find those still missing.
"This day is held to honor and commemorate the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action veterans and their families," said Kirby, an Air Force veteran. "I think it's an honor for them to recognize the day itself and veterans in general."
Although Kirby said he did not serve with anyone who is MIA, two of his friends were killed in Vietnam, and he thinks the current Iraq situation, with more POWs/MIAs being added to the list, gives the day extra significance.
"I think [recognition] is important for the past and current situation we're in now," said Kirby. "The more we draw attention to this, hopefully state legislators and Congress in general will have more pressure on them to respond."
Rogosky, whose uncle is MIA from the Korean War and who has a good friend who is MIA from Vietnam, said Post 184 has held a POW/MIA vigil on the Town Green since the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. At that vigil they read the names of every POW/MIA for 24-hours a day for three days until they were all named.
Since then, the Post has gathered each year at the veterans memorial on the Town Green. Rogosky said usually members will sign up for a shift and then stand guard at the memorial for about an hour.
In addition to holding a vigil, the group also raises money for veterans at hospitals in Roanoke and on Capitol Hill. This year they raised $8,000 in two days by standing in front of grocery stores asking for donations, and Rogosky emphasized that money goes directly to the veterans at the hospital, not to hospital maintenance.
THIS YEAR, in addition to the recognition by the Town Council, Reece said he is also working on an exhibit that will display this year's POW/MIA Recognition Day poster, the POW/MIA flag, the empty chair that signifies MIAs and a listing of Virginia veterans that are unaccounted for.
"I am going to take a look to see how many veterans are in Northern Virginia," said Reece, "and read those names if it's not too large."
Reece said as a retired Marine, the hunt for missing soldiers is a part of his training.
"It is a part of our culture that we don't leave anybody behind," said Reece of the impact this day has on him. "We bring everybody home with us, so it's very important to me."
The Town Council will recognize the POWs/MIAs, Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at 765 Lynn Street, in downtown Herndon.