- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

The terrorist attack on the Pentagon 10 days earlier made yesterday's annual memorial ceremony for American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action even more poignant, inspiring and memorable.

"Many of you here today have long understood what thousands of Americans now face," Secretary of the Army Thomas White said, referring to the families of many of the 6,000-plus victims whose remains have not been found and identified since the Sept. 11 suicide assaults on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in New York City.

Mr. White spoke during the 22nd National POW/MIA Recognition Day to more than 500 veterans, former prisoners of war and family members of Americans imprisoned or missing in previous wars in foreign lands.

Most appropriately, yesterday's ceremony was in the Arlington National Cemetery amphitheater. Unseen on the other side of the vaulted, marble podium was the Tomb of the Unknowns, where a lone sentinel stood guard. The attendees walked around to watch the sentinel before or after the ceremony during which the changing of the guard occurred twice.

This year's ceremony originally was scheduled to be held in the Pentagon. After a terrorist-hijacked airliner crashed into the military headquarters, more than 1,000 families, veterans and former prisoners of war in the Washington area had to be informed of the change. They were advised to bring their invitation and a photo identification for admittance.

Mr. White and keynote speaker Orson Swindle, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, who was a Vietnam War prisoner for six years, praised President Bush for his speech to the Congress and the nation, which was broadcast on Thursday night.

"In my opinion, he hit a grand slam last night," Col. Swindle said of the president's speech.

Those attending the ceremony applauded when Mr. White reiterated the president's resolve, saying "We will not tire, we will not falter. We will not fail."

The horror of the terrorist assaults and the president's speech had the effect of uniting Americans who have great differences in ethnicity, religion and belief.

"The world knows we are reluctant warriors," Mr. White said, noting that Americans will and can fight. "Nobody who comes into our house can destroy its foundation."

Col. Swindle said it effectively created a new generation.

"The torch is passed," Col. Swindle said, explaining that Americans today are experiencing anger and frustration at terrorist massacres. "We will be calling on a new generation to make a similar commitment," as past generations, and Col. Swindle predicted it would also sacrifice to preserve the liberty and justice created by America.

Col. Swindle pointed out that just last year the remains were recovered of 19 Marines who died on Makin Atoll in the South Pacific on Aug. 17, 1942. Thirteen were buried in Arlington National Cemetery last month, exactly 59 years after they died in battle. More than 245,000 are buried in Arlington.

"I renew our pledge to you that America will continue the noble effort" to find and return the American men and women who disappeared in past wars on foreign shores, Mr. White said.

Yesterday, about 15 former prisoners of war, stood up and were applauded by the audience.

Eleven members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club were a visible reminder that efforts need to continue to retrieve those missing and action and prisoners of war. The club was organized 14 years ago to keep alive those efforts, and its name was derived from the roar of B-52 bombers, said Billy Okuly, 50, a building official from Dumfries, Va., who is an Army veteran.

The nine men and two women members had a distinctive appearance. Two wore U.S. flag bandanas on their heads. Most wore jeans. One wore motorcycle chaps. A couple carried black flags. Among the medals and emblems many wore on their shirts and black vests were a couple reading: "Jane Fonda American Traitor [expletive]."

They stood among other attendees, either saluting or with hands over their hearts, as the U.S. Marine Band played the "Star-Spangled Banner," and the anthems of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.

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