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Sheppard honors POWs, MIAs with retreat ceremony, 24-hour run

Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew speaks at POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony

Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, 82nd Training Wing commander, addresses the audience at the annual POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texsa, Sept. 17, 2021. A POW/MIA table and flag folding ceremony highlighted the event. (U.S. Air Force phoito by Bailee Russell)

Group participates in POW/MIA 24-hour Run

A group of runners participate in the 24-hour POW/MIA Run in the early morning hours at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2021. Roughly 160 runners and 27 teams participated in the event, filling up 48 consecutive 30-minute time slots and amassing 139 aggregate miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Martin)

Group participates in POW/MIA 24-hour Run

A group of runners participate in the 24-hour POW/MIA Run in the early morning hours at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2021. Roughly 160 runners and 27 teams participated in the event, filling up 48 consecutive 30-minute time slots and amassing 139 aggregate miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Martin)

POW/MIA Retreat flag folding

Honor Guard members perform a flag folding ceremony during the annual POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17. 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bailee Russell)

POW/MIA Retreat flag folding

Honor Guard members perform a flag folding ceremony during the annual POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17. 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bailee Russell)

POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony

Flights of Airmen stand at parade rest during the annual POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2021. Joel Jimenez, commander of the Wichita Falls Disabled American Veterans chapter, was the guest of honor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bailee Russell)

POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony

Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, left, 82nd Training Wing commander, presents Wichita Falls Disabled American Veterans Chapter 41 Commander Joel Jimenez with a POW/MIA Flag shadow box during the annual POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2021. Jimenez, a Vietnam War combat infantryman, was the guest of honor during the event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bailee Russell)

POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony

Service hats representing Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy adorn a POW/MIA table during the annual POW/MIA Retrreat Ceremony at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2021. The display is a long standing tradition to remember those service members who remain missing in action from conflicts since World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bailee Russell)

POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony

From left, Tech. Sgts. Adam Norman, Bradley Bellemare and Jamie Groff, 366th Training Squadron Civil Engineer Operations students, participate in the 24-hour POW/MIA Run at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 16, 2021. Roughly 160 runners and 27 teams participated in the event, filling up 48 consecutive 30-minute time slots and amassing 139 aggregate miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Martin)

POW/MIA 24-hour Run
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The team of Maj. Christopher Sweeney, 365th Training Squadron commander, and 364th Training Squadron instructors Tech. Sgts. Dustin Edwards, Dustin Burgess and Cashin Poole and Staff Sgt. Matthew Legac make their way around the 1-mile track during the 24-hour POW/MIA Run at sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Roughly 160 runners and 27 teams participated in the event, filling up 48 consecutive 30-minute time slots and amassing 139 aggregate miles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michelle Martin)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – A black and white flag fluttered in the wind just below the American flag here Sept. 16, 2021, the silhouette of a man the central focal point of the now-recognized symbol for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 81,000 U.S. service members are still missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. Although unaccounted for, POW/MIA Day ensures those held as POWs or who are missing are never forgotten, the motto inscribed on the flag.

Joel Jimenez, an Army combat infantryman during the Vietnam War and commander of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter in Wichita Falls, was the guest of honor for this year’s POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony. He was presented with a POW/MIA flag in a shadow box during the event.

Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, 82nd Training Wing commander and host of this year’s retreat service, said it’s important to have these events every years to remember those who have served before and to pause and recognize the ultimate sacrifice many of them paid.

The general recalled Sheppard AFB’s role during the Vietnam War when America’s POWs were coming home after, in some cases, years of captivity. In 1973, Sheppard was a regional facility used during Operation Homecoming during the Vietnam War as POWs were repatriated when they returned home.

Even the Airman’s Creed, he said, contains a reminder that “We will never leave an Airman behind,” he said. That was seen recently when the DPMAA announced the remains of Army Air Force Sgt. Francis W. Wiemerslage, a 20-year-old ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II, were recovered on Aug. 24, 2021.

“So even today – several weeks ago – the efforts continue for us to bring every American Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine back home to the United States of America,” the general said. “So we thank the efforts of those who continue to do the hard work and the diligence to not only ensure that we remember them, but we bring them home to their family members and are accounted for so they can be remembered forever.”

A ceremonial POW/MIA table sat to the left of the audience with five place settings representing the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. Each item that is part of the table has a specific meaning:

• The table is round, showing our everlasting concern;
• The table cloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to service;
• The single red rose reminds us of the lives of these Americans, and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith while seeking answers;
• The red ribbon symbolizes our continuing uncertainty, the hope for their return, and our determination to account for them;
• A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate, captured or missing in a foreign land;
• A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families;
• The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return;
• The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God;
• The glass inverted symbolizes their inability to share a toast;
• The empty chairs symbolize the missing.

In addition to the retreat ceremony, the 365th Training Squadron hosted a 24-hour POW/MIA Run. By the end of the 24 hours, more than 160 runners participated in the event, filling up 48 consecutive 30-minute sessions for an aggregate of 139 miles.