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Community salutes POW/MIAs
Ceremony shows soldarity with military
Angel Sanabria, Henry O’Neal and Harvey Stokes, Vietnam veterans, stand together before the ceremony. - photo by Photo by Seraine Page
More than 100 people gathered on Fort Stewart Friday evening in remembrance of those who have gone missing or were killed in action while serving in the military over the past several decades.
The outside ceremony called together veterans from all eras, including Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the War on Terror to recognize and remember fellow fallen comrades.
Last week, the city council and Liberty County Board of Commissioners officially declared Sept. 17 POW/MIA Observance Day to remember those who have served and may have never returned home to their families.
Dennis Fitzgerald, a 22-year Army veteran and chairman of the program, said it is crucial for American citizens to always recall the sacrifices of those serving in the military.
Most especially, for the ones who never make it home.
“It is very important because there are too many  POW/MIAs forgotten from all the wars,” he said.
Fitzgerald spoke for most of the evening, including leading the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence in front of a flagpole where the black and white MIA flag flapped in the breeze.
Paul Spence, project officer of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, agreed with Fitzgerald about remembering all of the veterans, not just the ones from their era.
“We have friends that we left in Vietnam,” Spence said of continuing to respect fallen soldiers.
“Unfortunately, when we returned, we didn’t get the reception that (they) get today,” Spence said. “We were in a different era, a different culture. In Iraq, the troops have been supported 100 percent. We support them 100 percent.”
In front of the lectern were two small tables — one draped in white, one in black — as symbols of POW/MIAs and those killed in action.
Spence spoke about the significance of a table draped by a white lace tablecloth, set for just one to have dinner alone. The table represented the frailty of a soldier captured and facing his oppressors alone.
He said even though he has read the same literature about the table for the past 15 years, “it doesn’t get any easier.”
Susan Harvey, who remembers the loss of her brother overseas 40 years ago this Sept. 26, described the other table, for those killed in action.
Both chairs sat empty, as a symbol of the soldiers who are meant to spend time with their families, but never came home.
Col. Kevin W. Milton, Fort Stewart’s garrison commander, spoke briefly to thank families for coming out to the ceremony. He read estimated death tolls from each war.
“As you depart this ceremony today, remember, freedom isn’t always free,” Milton said.
Then members of the VVA slowly marched to the lectern to read off names of Georgia Vietnam POW/MIAs.
After a few names were called off, a new member would step up and take over the reading. Previous readers would march down the sidewalk to stand in front of easels holding up posters, drawings and a few photos of missing military members.
The ceremony was concluded with the playing of Taps, a moment of silence and a benediction.
Attendees, mainly veterans and current Fort Stewart soldiers and staff, attended a small reception after the service to socialize.
“We help in little ways,” Spence said of the ceremony. “If the families need us, we’ll be there in a heartbeat.”
Judy Waynick attended the service with her husband, Jimmy, who is also a member of the chapter.
“It was a good ceremony,” she said. “We just need to remember them.”
Jimmy, a 20-year Army veteran, was grateful he was able to make it to the ceremony again this year.
“As always, it is a moving ceremony,” he said. “We’re always glad to put it on.”

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