By Darrell Todd Maurina
With a black flag in the background commemorating prisoners of war and those missing in action, four somber airmen in camouflage uniforms walked slowly across the stage.
Just moments before, 27th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Robert Yates had drawn loud applause by reminding those in attendance at Saturday’s Cannon homecoming celebration the base hadn’t lost a single airman in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The base had deployed about a thousand troops to the Middle East and flying 1,200 combat missions, he said.
The men who followed him across the stage, all from the Cannon Air Force Base Honor Guard, reminded the audience of others over the years who hadn’t come back from their missions when they had planned.
“Let us remember them, for they are not here tonight,” said a taped voice in the background, following a time-honored litany of the Armed Forces for those captured in battle.
One by one, the airmen placed symbols of the suffering of prisoners of war on a black tablecloth. A white tablecloth covered the black cloth, symbolizing the purity of the service member’s dedication to defending the nation.
A single lit candle symbolizing the frailty of a prisoner standing up alone to his oppressors, with a black ribbon around it to remind those watching of those who won’t come home.
A vase with a single red rose symbolizing the service members loved ones, to which was tied a yellow ribbon and a red, white, and blue ribbon symbolizing hope for their loved ones’ return.
Finally, the airmen placed a plate on the table with a slice of lemon and salt symbolizing the prisoners’ bitter fate and their loved ones’ tears, and an inverted goblet showing that prisoners are unable to return.
Staff Sgt. Eugene von Bon of the honor guard said that while POW-MIA ceremonies are a regular part of formal military banquets and some prayer services, Saturday was the first time he had conducted the ceremony at an outdoor event for the general public.
Although von Bon said his family has a military tradition dating back many generations, the last family member to be captured in battle was a Union soldier in the Civil War. Performing the POW-MIA ceremony helps him understand the pain of those who have been captured, von Bon said.
“It makes me forever mindful that what we do is important,” von Bon said. “I’m happy I haven’t yet had to experience something like that. Being the optimist and seeing how great this community is, I know we’d receive the support we need from our community.”