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Opinion

Column: Thoughts from Dr. Joe: MIA soldiers to be commemorated in La Cañada on May 27

As a young officer candidate struggling to make the cut, I was eager to assimilate into the ethos of the Marine Corps and anticipated the day when I would be knighted and wear the gold bars as a lieutenant in the Marines.

I found one core value of this ethos extraordinarily poignant. Defined by a simple Latin phrase, nemo resideo (leave no one behind), it incorporates all that is divine about humanity.

When someone needs rescue, we never should count the price.

Therefore, during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, I never came to terms with the lack of Congressional and presidential resolve concerning a full accounting of soldiers missing in action and those taken as prisoners of war.

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We reneged on the $3.3 billion that President Nixon promised, and they refused to be forthcoming regarding America’s MIAs. Over the years, there have remained too many unresolved questions regarding the truth of what happened to Americans who were never returned.

Attempting to forget the maladies of Vietnam, we took the 591 POWs repatriated by the Vietnamese, didn’t ask questions and left.

“Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off,” laments the character John Rambo played by Sylvester Stallone in the movie “First Blood.”

As depicted in such ’80s blockbusters as “Missing in Action,” “Uncommon Valor” and “First Blood,” the debacle of the MIA and POW dilemma reached mythological proportions. Many eyewitnesses and other credible sources claimed Americans were left behind; similarly, many sources debunked that theory.

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At the end of Operation Homecoming in the spring of 1973, 2,646 Americans did not return from Southeast Asia, according to the Defense POW-Missing Accounting Agency. Since then, 1,049 have been recovered and identified, leaving 1,597 unaccounted for. Of these, a considerable number are known casualties who have not been recovered. Some 135 were known to be prisoners of war who never returned home.

During the 1970s and ’80s, Lucy’s Tiger Den, a bar in the Patpong district of Bangkok, Thailand spearhead the movement that adamantly maintained American soldiers were waiting for rescue in Cambodia and Laos.

The Defense POW-Missing Accounting Agency also reports that in World War II more than 78,000 Americans went missing and during Korea more than 8,000. The Dough Boy MIA Data Base reports that approximately 4,500 World War I soldiers remain unaccounted.

This year, the Les Tupper Award recognized the La Cañada Memorial Day commemoration. In so doing, the Coordinating Council paid tribute to the children of the community who gather to honor the memory of America’s fallen and the adults who support them throughout the ceremony. Although I help out by organizing it, the commemoration is driven entirely by children since they will continue the solemnity of honoring American soldiers who gave their lives for us.

This year the commemoration will focus on those who never returned. The political ambiguity that surrounds war often overshadows the totality of human sacrifice. When a soldier dies the living go with them.

I particularly lament the families of those who went missing in World War I and II. They all passed on never knowing what happened to their loved ones. They simply went Over There and never returned, leaving behind only fading memories, fading photographs and unashamed tears.

Regardless of ideology, or hearts and minds or the convoluted platitudes of our highest ideals, soldiers fight for the one on the left and the right of themselves and carry the ethos to leave no man behind.

On Memorial Day, May 27 at 9 a.m. in La Cañada’s Memorial Park, Emilie Risha, a student at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, will assume the responsibilities as mistress of ceremonies and, to quote her, “to lead the ceremony with grace and respect.”

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I want all veterans and active duty personnel on deck. Also, the attendance of readers of this column is respectfully requested. A soldier is only missing if they’re forgotten.

Joe Puglia is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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