Aug 22, 2019
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Air Force ROTC marks national POW/MIA Day

The flame, flanked by Air Force ROTC cadets Chris Bump (left) and Time Kumse (right), represents hope and remembrance.  Held at the northeast side of the North Gym, the ceremony calls for a changing of the guard every hour on the hour.  Most of the time, the two cadets were the only persons present at the ceremony.
Shaun Ho / The Collegian

It wasn’t dark when the tall, single candle was lit at 6 p.m. on Thursday, in front of Fresno State’s Air Force ROTC building. The shadows of the two cadets guarding the flame stretched out in front of them. In exactly one hour, the cadets would leave and two new cadets would take their place.

This ceremony, carried out at the northeast corner of the North Gym, was an all-night vigil to honor prisoners of war (POW) and soldiers missing in action (MIA). POW/MIA Day is traditionally celebrated on the third Friday of September, but many divisions choose to hold a vigil the night before.

Cadet Anastasia Fiehler said the candle was chosen because of its universal meaning.

“Light is something that signals hope and shows you remember,” Fiehler said.

National POW/MIA day is only one of the ways in which the Air Force remembers their comrades. Traditionally, at formal dinners, an empty table is always set aside for POWs and MIAs.

There are several items on the table, including a candle. A script is read, which says the candle on the table represents “the frailty of a prisoner alone, trying to stand up against his oppressors.”

Fresno State’s Air Force ROTC also has a display case inside their building, with pictures and names of POWs and MIAs from their division. There are four people listed on the board, with hometowns as far away as Ohio.
Also inside the case is a thin metal bracelet, an example of the jewelry many cadets wear. The names of POWs and MIAs and the dates they went missing are inscribed on them. The bracelets were created to fit uniform regulations, so that cadets could wear them at all times, Fiehler said.

Outside the building, the flame burned all night, until 7:45 a.m. the next day, when it was extinguished in a formal ceremony with two color guards and formal revelry.

But that evening, it was silent. Students had mostly gone home; the campus had settled down.

The candle flickered in the breeze, creating dancing shadows on a rock to the right.

The plaque on the rock read “To those who gave their all, you are not forgotten.”

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