Today’s annual POW/MIA ceremony in Hawaii honoring those who were held captive in war and those who remain missing will be somewhat different from previous years.
While the names of all the service members returned to the U.S. over the past year will still be read aloud — 132 in all — there will be no audience to view the solemn event in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And instead of taking place at the hallowed Punchbowl grounds of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific as it normally does, the ceremony will occur at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency building at Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam.
Ironically, more people than ever can witness the 10 a.m. event, as it will be streamed live at www.dvidshub.net/webcast/24868.
“This remains an important tribute and reminder to all Americans about how much they have given for their freedom, and how much the families of the missing in action are still giving for their freedom,” said Vietnam veteran Allen Hoe of Honolulu, the event’s keynote speaker.
The event, hosted by Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, DPAA’s deputy director of operations, marks National POW/MIA Recognition Day, established in 1979 through a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter.
Since then, each subsequent president has issued an annual proclamation commemorating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
Hoe, today’s keynote speaker, is a prominent advocate for veterans, emeritus civilian aide to the secretary of the Army and longtime booster of the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
“What they have done is remarkable,” he said. “Their use of DNA and forensics has made the agency’s mission important and supportable by the government.”
Hoe, who lost his own son, Nainoa, in combat during the Iraq War, was a combat medic in Vietnam, serving with the Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade and 2nd Battalion 1st Infantry Regiment.
He served in the northern sector of South Vietnam at a dangerous place known as I Corps in 1967 and 1968 during a time when the U.S. suffered some of its worst losses.
During today’s address Hoe will remember his fallen comrades from Vietnam and, among other things, describe how he honored the memory of three of them during construction of the agency’s new building in 2014.
Hoe had a koa box filled with mementos buried at the base of the new building’s flagpole. The box contains unit patches, a list of names and other items honoring the fellow warriors lost during the Battle of Kham Duc on May 12, 1968.
Two of them were recovered and identified in 2006. It was Hoe who helped in the recovery efforts by accompanying agency investigators to the region where the battle took place.
“There have been a remarkable number of identifications completed and returned to their families over the years,” he said.
Despite the thousands of service members brought home over the years, more than 81,000 are still missing, officials said.
This year the agency’s efforts have been slowed somewhat as there have been no active recovery missions since the coronavirus pandemic struck.
But research efforts continue, as well as identification work in DPAA laboratories.
“It hasn’t stopped us. We’re working where we can,” said Maj. Leah Ganoni, DPAA public affairs officer.