n the heart of Memorial Park in Omaha on September 15, the nation’s spirit resonated with a poignant echo of remembrance. Veterans, military organizations, and civilians gathered to honor National POW/MIA Recognition Day, an annual event that evokes memories of those who gave everything for their country but never made it back home.
The Defense Department has always held a deep commitment to remembering and honoring those Americans who were held as prisoners of war, and those who served their nation with valor but never returned. Across all our wars, about 81,000 individuals remain unaccounted for – a number that tugs at our hearts with a gravity that’s impossible to quantify.
DPAA was founded to spearhead the mission of finding and identifying these missing service members. The gravity of this mission is evident in the fact that the DPAA, within a decade of its existence, has facilitated the identification of hundreds. Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska houses one of the only two laboratories dedicated to this mission. As Nebraska Lab Director Franklin Damann puts it, “We are the Nebraska Laboratory — the only laboratory here in the continental United States.”
The respect and honor with which the DPAA treats each piece of evidence is deeply moving. As the remains arrive at the Offutt Lab, they are draped in the national flag, treated with the reverence befitting a hero. And every piece of evidence, whether it’s bone, teeth, or personal belongings, is a potential key to unlocking a family’s decades-old mystery.
“It’s not the number. Those are 200 families that will receive the answer,” remarks DPAA Principal Deputy Director Fern Sumpter Winbush, emphasizing the human connection behind each identification. The shock and surprise of families when they receive that long-awaited call are palpable. A family’s reaction typically echoes the sentiment: “There’s no way there was a government agency still looking for my great-uncle, great-grandfather.”
This mission, rooted deeply in the nation’s ethos, sends a powerful message to every service member and their families. America doesn’t forget. America doesn’t leave its heroes behind. Whether in the bustling hallways of the DPAA lab or the silent echoes of Memorial Park, the commitment to our missing service members is unwavering.
As we commemorate National POW/MIA Recognition Day, let’s pause to remember the sacrifices of the missing and unreturned. Their memories serve as a beacon, reminding us all of the cost of freedom and the resilience of the human spirit. It’s a promise from the heart of the nation – we will never forget, and we will never stop searching.
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