‘The cost of freedom’

At first glance, the third Friday of September doesn’t seem outwardly special.

But for the family and friends of prisoners of war (POW) and soldiers missing in action (MIA), it is a day of honor and remembrance.

At an annual ceremony to commemorate POW and MIA soldiers at Camp Johnson on Sept. 20, Governor Phil Scott acknowledged ten Vermont-native ex-POWs, three of which were in attendance, and those still missing.

According to the program, over 80,000 soldiers remain unaccounted for. In his invocation, Chaplain Col. VSJ Norman Boyden continued the list—1,600 still missing from the Vietnam War, 126 from the Cold War (five of which were from Vermont), 7,644 from Korea War (twenty from Vermont), and 72,680 from World War II (167 from Vermont). “This is a timely reminder that our freedom comes at a high cost,” he said.

The governor also acknowledged the thousands still missing. “The numbers are staggering, almost too large to comprehend,” he said. “I can’t imagine the courage and bravery it took to go on in the darkness and in captivity.”

The program states that observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held “across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans’ facilities.” The third Friday of September is one of six days throughout the year when Congress has mandated the flying of the flag “as a reminder of our enduring commitment to those still unaccounted for.”

This sentiment—the desire to remember those still missing—was woven throughout the entire ceremony. “These people are the best among us,” said Gov. Scott. “It is our duty to honor those who survived and those who never came home.”

He also acknowledged the sacrifice made by families and friends waiting on the other side. “I want to say, we’re here for you and we are forever grateful for your service,” he said. “I’ve listened to many stories over the years, and I’m so grateful to hear what you’ve been through. I’m humbled by your presence.”

Scott and Brigadier General Gregory Knight laid a wreath in honor of POW and MIA’s. On the stage was a small table set with five place settings, representative of the five branches of the Armed Forces. A rose in a vase represented fragility and the family and friends left behind. Five empty chairs represented the people who have still not come home.

“We must remember them for surely, they have not forgotten us,” said Boyden.

Lastly, a soldier walked down the middle of the audience holding a flickering candle—the “flame of freedom,” as he called it. “We keep the flame lit but fire is fragile, easily extinguished,” he said. “It is in need of constant field and tending. It is in constant danger of dying but we are dedicated to keeping the flame alive. May this beacon of hope never go out.”

Ten names from the Vermont Chapter Number 1 American Ex-POW were honored, three of which attended the ceremony; Clyde Cassidy was captured by German forces while on a mission. Richard H. Hamilton’s plane was shot down by German forces and he remained in captivity from 1944 to 1945. And Ralph McClintock was captured aboard the USS Pueblo in 1968 by Korean forces and remained in captivity for 11 months.

The other Vermont-native ex-POWs include:

  • J. Francis Angier
  • Kenneth W. Brown, Sr.
  • William B. Busier
  • Louis Carini
  • Clyde Cassidy
  • Richard H. Hamilton
  • Roger W. Layn
  • Ralph McClintock
  • Robert A. Norton
  • J. William Smallwood