According to the U.S. Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, that's the number of Americans who fought and defended their nation in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, and Vietnam who remain unaccounted for. How do we remember them? By taking time to reflect on their sacrifice.
In honor of the national POW/MIA Recognition Day that is observed tomorrow, Sept. 16, I'd like to focus on a single story of enduring courage and selflessness.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robinson "Robbie" Risner had plenty of combat experience under his belt when he arrived in Vietnam. But his life changed dramatically on Sept. 16, 1965. While flying his F-105D Thunderchief fighter-bomber on a mission over North Vietnam, Risner was shot down, captured and taken to Hoa Lo Prison, otherwise known as the "Hanoi Hilton."
As we have learned since the Vietnam War ended, POWs were subjected to cruel, inhumane treatment and torture. Here's how Risner described one of those experiences:
"During the night, I heard someone screaming in a distance. And I thought, man, they are torturing another prisoner. I felt so sorry for him, you know. And then I would come back more closely to consciousness and found that it was me I was hearing in the distance. I was the one that was doing the screaming. And they tortured me all night."
While most of us can't imagine what that was like or how a human being can survive such conditions, Risner and his men found a way. They communicated to one another by tapping on the prison walls and frequently paid the price when they were caught. When Risner and his companions held an unauthorized church service in their prison cell, guards escorted them to solitary confinement. While they were walking out, the men of Camp Unity, as it later became known, sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." Risner was later quoted as saying that he felt nine feet tall during those moments. After serving seven years as a POW, Robbie Risner was released on Feb. 12, 1973, and returned with honor to the United States as part of Operation Homecoming.
Will you join me tomorrow in offering a moment of silence for those 83,581 who are still lost, but not forgotten?