At dusk on Sept. 19 Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana held their annual Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Memorial ceremony at Flame of Hope Park. Sailors stood alongside local veterans and families to remember and honor our POW/MIA service members who have fallen or have yet to be found.
Commanding officer of Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Capt. Richard Meadows began the ceremony by welcoming all the community members in attendance:
Virginia Patriot Guard, VFW Post 392 and their auxiliary, American Legion post 113, American Legion post 110, members of the military order of the cooties pup tent 9 and auxiliary, as well as ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the Marine Corps League, VFW Riders of Virginia, the Combat Wounded Coalition and the Association of Naval Aviation (ANA).
Meadows continued to speak of the strength and sacrifices POW/MIA have given to this country.
“We are here at the Flame of Hope to pause, remember and honor the heroes and patriots who fought for our freedoms, and who have not yet returned home, “Meadows said. “ To each of them we owe an unending debt of gratitude for the sacrifice they made, the pain they endured, and the hardships they suffered to ensure that the flame of freedom will never be extinguished.”
As the sun set behind the flame of hope and silence fell over the crowd, Naval Musician 2nd Class Matt Kinnaman played taps on his bugle stirring pride and hope in the hearts of people in attendance.
“We draw inspiration from the bonds of camaraderie, compassion, and love that prompted our POWs to care for each other, and sustain each other, through their terrible months and years of hardship,” Meadows said. “Our soldiers, Sailors, airmen and marines overseas, fighting now, and in the past, carry with them an indomitable sense of pride and courage, backed by an American spirit that originates in the heart of every American here at home.”
The Flame of Hope monument was conceived in 1972 as a volunteer project headed by Attack Squadron 43 at Naval Air Station Oceana. The monument was built by volunteers from Construction Battalion 415 and sponsored by the Virginia Beach Jaycees and Oceana wives of the “They’re Not Forgotten” committee. The original intent of the monument was to have a live flame light the way for the return of all POW/MIAs from South East Asia, after which the flame would be extinguished.
When “Operation Homecoming”, the return of 591 American POWs held by North Vietnam following the Paris Peace Accords that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, ended, the fate of over two thousand military men remained a mystery and the Flame of Hope continued to burn.
The flame was transferred to the NAS Oceana chapel and replaced with a cold bronze “flame” until March 25, 1994, when the Flame of Hope was reignited. On May 1, 1994, the Flame of Hope was rededicated as a continuous reminder that those who were killed or remain missing in Vietnam must never be forgotten.
“The younger generation needs to understand what the sacrifices that were given and what all these military members have done,” said retired Air Force Logistics Crew Chief and current VFW 3160 post surgeon/hospital chairman Noel “NOGGER” Lumanog. ”You always hear that freedom isn’t free and these individuals gave their lives for freedoms that they have today. This is a heritage that all military members have and that we all endure this freedom that we have is always taken for granted.”
In attendance was World War II veteran George Norman, retired Naval Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class who placed a memorial wreath at the Flame along with his brother WWII veterans Charles Britt and Felix Maurizio.
“We have to keep American strong and in good faith,” Norman said. “Keep on going, remembering and always taking care of our veterans, they sacrificed so much.”