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Until They Are Home, May They Never Be Forgotten

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Active duty, Reserve, and retired service members, military family members, and civilians attended a ceremony to commemorate Prisoner of War/Missing In Action (POW/MIA) Recognition Day at the Naval Undersea Warfare Museum in Keyport, Sept. 21.

Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Keyport and the Naval Undersea Museum partnered in sponsoring the ceremony, which was open to the public.

The national theme for 2012 was "Until They Are Home." The theme pays tribute to the families of POW/MIA service members who sacrificed and endured on behalf of their loved ones.

"[Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division] Keyport began hosting a POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony four years ago because we believe that we should remember those who must not be forgotten," Capt. Dave Kohnke, commander, NUWC Keyport.

"Each prisoner of war and Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine who is still missing in action has a common bond with every other veteran, reservist, and active duty military person," said Kohnke. "We all took a solemn oath when we put on our nation's uniform, an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Kohnke said that every service member who was either a POW or is currently MIA made extreme sacrifices, with some even making the supreme sacrifice.

"Today, we honor those who made that very oath and were tragically lost in battle, their final resting place known only to God, and also to honor those who were captured and held by the enemy," said Kohnke.

Kohnke said that some service members were held in captivity for years, suffering greatly, uncertain of their future, and powerless to change it.

"But through all that adversity, they comported themselves with honor, did what they could to keep their dignity and follow the Code of Conduct," said Kohnke. "They never forgot who they were: defenders of our freedom, and we, the United States of America, the greatest nation on earth, never forgot them."

During the ceremony, Navy divers assigned to NUWC Keyport's dive locker passed the national ensign prior to raising it for morning colors and Navy Band Northwest performed the national anthem.

Chief Gunner's Mate (SW/AW) Tamra Timmons participated in the passing of the flag and assisted in hoisting the national ensign.

"I was honored, it actually made me think about the people that are missing and all the people that died and the families that never really got closure, never got to bury their family members," said Timmons. "It was somber, but I felt proud to stand up there and participate in remembering them."

The museum also displayed the missing man table, and Kohnke shared the story of the Johnnie Johnson list that was created by Army Pfc. Wayne Johnson, an 18-year-old POW during the Korean War. Johnson, using a pencil stub, recorded information of 496 service members who died on bits of paper, discarded cigarette packages, and scraps of wallpaper.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day of national observance for Americans to remember, honor, and respect the service members who were prisoners of war, and who remain missing in action along with their family members who wait for their return home.

"As this year's message states, 'Until They Are Home,' let us continue to hope and pray that one day soon, everyone will be home," said Kohnke.

Congress authorized National POW/MIA Recognition Day to be observed July 18, 1979. In 1986, the national remembrance date moved to the third Friday in September.

This observance is one of six days throughout the year that Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families' POW/MIA flag, the five others are Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

More than 33,000 Sailors from World War II through the Persian Gulf War are still missing in action. Today, there are more than 70,000 American military personnel who remain missing in action from World War II, nearly 8,000 from the Korean War, and 1,657 from the Vietnam War.

Article by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Scott A. McCall, Navy Public Affairs Support Element, Det. Northwest