LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The black and white colors reflect the solemnity. The gaunt, black silhouette on a white background, framed by a guard tower and barbed wire, create a lasting impression. But the bold white letters imprinted on the black flags beneath the images say it all: "You Are Not Forgotten."
The POW/MIA flags have been bathed in spotlights at the five basic military training, Lackland Training Annex and Warhawk tracks since midnight when the second annual 24-hour vigil run began for today's National POW/MIA Recognition Day at Lackland.
The run honors America's prisoners of war and those missing in action since World War II. The Department of Defense lists 81,864 military members missing in action, including more than 74,000 from World War II. Those names have been divided among the running venues to be read aloud during the event.
Trainees wore black T-shirts similar to the flag's design with the Air Force code of conduct on the back during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training warrior run early this morning. All other basic military trainees participated in the run at 5 this morning as a substitute for today's physical training.
It also created a unique learning opportunity for the participants.
"'You Are Not Forgotten' - a few words that have a tremendous impact," said Lt. Col. Matthew Whiat, the run coordinator. "Colonel Mott's vision (Col. William H. Mott V, 37th Training Wing commander) is to build warrior Airmen of character. This is one of those character-building events. It shows the trainees the long, blue line they are now going to walk in."
Colonel Whiat, 323rd Training Squadron commander, said a runner at each track at all times carries a black memorial POW/MIA baton. As 30-minute shifts end for participating runners, units and organizations, the baton is passed on. The rotation continues until the 24-hour run is completed at midnight tonight.
Two highly decorated former Vietnam War POWs spoke briefly at several BMT run locations early this morning.
Dr. Joseph Milligan, a retired Air Force colonel, and James H. Warner, a retired Marine major, each spent nearly six years in Vietnam prisons. Both are Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipients.
"These are two phenomenal individuals who give a lot of perspective of what it truly means to serve and each has sacrificed a tremendous amount," Colonel Whiat said.
Dr. Milligan spoke to the 324th TRS, and Mr. Warner addressed the 331st TRS and 320th TRS. Both are also scheduled to make remarks at the Warhawk and Lackland Annex tracks, and speak to company grade officers at noon today in the Gateway Club. The two former POWs were guests at a commander's dinner Thursday night.
Dr. Grandville Coggs, a Tuskegee Airman, spoke to and ran with members of the 323rd TRS.
The vigil run has grown in a year from one BMT squadron on one track with 750 participants to a base-wide event. More than 4,000 were expected to participate at the various running locations before the vigil ends tonight.
"There really aren't words to describe the significance of this day and the importance of remembering those who sacrificed so much," Colonel Whiat said. "So today in silence, we run to reflect and remember those before us, and hope it guides our future actions."