A Wreath for POWs
The nationwide “Wreaths Across America” remembrance ceremony was held this year on December 14, 2019, at more than two thousand cemeteries across the nation and more internationally. Family members, dignitaries, service members, and volunteers join at regional veterans’ cemeteries to honor those who served our nation and to lay evergreen wreaths on each grave. The solemn ceremony opened at noon on Saturday at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Eastern Washington with the presentation of eight ceremonial wreaths, including the wreath for our nation’s POW-MIAs, which I was honored to carry.
Several hundred people stood under a leaden sky to hear the speakers, watch the laying of the eight wreaths, and share the deeply moving military honors of gun salute and taps. Among those presenting ceremonial wreaths was Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rogers who spoke from the heart and carried the National Wreath. Representing the U. S. Navy was an elderly veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, Dick Gruelle, CPO, USN (Ret). He came in full uniform, pushed by family members in his wheelchair, but stood with sharp salute during the ceremony and placed the Navy wreath with dignity and honor. The U. S. Army wreath was carried by the parents (both veterans themselves) of Christopher Van Dissel, who served in Afghanistan and died just four months ago. They too accomplished their task with dignity, despite the raw emotion of their recent loss.
I was proud to present the POW-MIA wreath in honor of my father, Ted Olson, and in remembrance of all of our Wake Island men and the tens of thousands who have been captured or disappeared in our nation’s wars. According to the Department of Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, approximately 93,000 Americans were taken POW in Europe during WWII (1 percent died in captivity) and 27,000 taken as prisoners by Japan, with a death rate of 40 percent. Another 7,000 were MIA in the Korean War, and 2,500 POW-MIAs from the Vietnam War. In World War II, of the 1715 military and civilian men on Wake Island when the Japanese attacked in December 1941, a total of 93 were killed in action; the rest were taken POW and we know they suffered. Many POWs died; many came home bearing the external and internal scars of captivity. The effect of the POW experience is carried on in our families. At this holiday time, we can use our strength to Remember, Honor, and Teach.