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NELSON: Honor former POWs, those still unaccounted


Today is National POW/MIA Remembrance Day, and a South Dakota working holiday. As a Marine veteran and the great-grandson of a former POW from the infamous Confederate Andersonville prison, and as the grandnephew of an MIA from the battle of Okinawa during World War II, this day holds deep personal meaning for our family.

There is a difference between a prisoner of war, missing in action and unaccounted for. A POW is someone held against their will by an enemy of the United States during an active conflict. MIA means someone whose whereabouts are unknown while the conflict is still active. After peace has been declared, there is an accounting process to account for POWs and MIAs. Those still missing go into an unaccounted for status, and countries negotiate to find out their fates.

From the limited information my grandfather shared with the family about being a POW in Andersonville, and what history reports, Great-Grandpa Henry Becker suffered through terrible hunger, brutality, despair and hopelessness.

Luckily for our family, my greatgrandfather survived and lived out the remainder of his days with his family near Lake Andes, where he rests today. For some families in South Dakota and the rest of the country, the fate of their loved ones are still unknown, as is the case of my greatuncle Arthur Nelson, who is listed as MIA from what we understand was the horrendous battle of Okinawa in WWII. Many other American families had relatives who went off to war, and their fates remain unknown today.

There are two government organizations trying to find the answers people are waiting to hear about the fates of their loved ones. First, there is the Defense Prisoner of War, Missing in Action Office (DPMO) located in Washington, D.C., that negotiates with countries for access onto their soil to search for answers.

Next is the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii that goes into the countries and searches for the remains of our loved ones.

By providing families with the answers they have long waited for, they finally get closure as to what happened to their family members. Families have the option of having their loved ones returned home for burial or taken to Arlington to be buried with full military honors.

The U.S. Marines’ motto is “semper fidelis” (always faithful) and it, joined with my own service, were the reasons why I sponsored the bill this last year which established this day to remember our POW/MIAs in South Dakota on this state working holiday. I am proud to be an American where that saying holds true throughout all of our previous conflicts. From Europe to the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam conflicts, it remains a priority to account for those whose fates remain unknown on foreign soil.

Today, let us celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in honor of these heroes from our past who sacrificed to make our country the great place it is today. Please remember the motto of JPAC today and throughout the year: “Until They Are Home.”

— Stace Nelson, of Fulton, represents District 19 in the South Dakota House of Representatives.