Sergeant Major (E-9) Larry E. Williams (U.S. Army, Ret.) was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Vietnam Era Veterans organization.
In recognition of the third Friday in September, Sgt. Major Williams spoke of the urgent need to locate and identify Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action (POW/MIA) from our country’s past wars. He spoke of the need for accountability for all of military veterans.
Pausing for a photo during a recent Vietnam Era Veterans meeting are (from left) (Ret.) Sgt. Major Larry Williams, who spoke to veterans about the need to locate our country’s Prisoners of War/Missing in Action; James T. Neese, an 86-year-old WWII veteran who was recently awarded his high school diploma after it was discovered that Tennessee has a code that allows WW II, Korean and Vietnam Veterans who did not receive high school diplomas because their educations were interrupted by years of service to be awarded a diploma; and (Ret.) Chief Master Sergeant Donnie Porter, who shared information with veterans during the meeting about his search for his cousin who was listed as MIA during World War II.
“We Americans are reluctant warriors, but when our nation’s liberties are threatened, we are prepared to fight to preserve them,” Williams said, “and when we go to war, we pledge to those in uniform that should they fall on the battlefield, we will do everything and anything possible to find them and bring them home, with honor and with dignity”.
Williams went on to give examples of those in captivity like WWII Veteran Lt. Richard Wellbrock of Peoria, Ill., and Vietnam Veteran Colonel Bud Day of Florida, who were held for months and even years. He also spoke of “the tragedy of those counted as ‘missing in action’ and the pain for those families whose war has never ended.”
His closing remark were quite poignant to those in attendance, “To us, and to those like us, may our Lord God abundantly bless all of those who step forward to serve, and may he always bless our country!”
Williams is the veterans scheduling coordinator for the Southern Middle Tennessee Honor Flights for WWII & Korean Veterans and is involved with the state’s WWII, Korean and Vietnam Veterans High School Diplomas Program. He served in the United States Army for 30 years and is now retired. He and his wife, Sheila, reside in Monteagle.
Prior to Williams’ comments to the group, Chaplain Jason Porter opened the meeting with the pledge to the American flag and led in prayer. He spoke briefly about the POW/ MIA Table which was set in remembrance of all POW/ MIAs. Three commanders were present from local area American Legion Posts.
Veteran Tom Taylor highlighted the staggering statistics of those who are considered POW/ MIA, quoting from the September issue of “The American Legion Magazine.”
“There are approximately 83,000 cases that the Joint POW/ MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is trying to solve around the world,” Taylor explained. “Nearly 1,700 of those mysteries belong to U.S. military personnel who fought in Vietnam. Funding and staffing for the JPAC mission must not dry up. Our commitment to never leave one of our own on the battlefield distinguishes us as a nation. And what we, of the Vietnam War, do for today’s veterans for those coming home is at least in part done in tribute to those who never got the chance to become civilians again.”
Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) Donnie Porter (TN Air National Guard, Ret.) added to these comments on a personal level. Donnie contacted JPAC and Defense Prisoner of War/ Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), and he was able to recover classified documents concerning his cousin, Edward Anderson Porter form Huntsville, Ala. Anderson was a Aviation Radioman 2nd Class ARM2C in the United States Navy during WW II. He was radioman/gunner in a Dauntless Dive-bomber and was awarded an Air Medal for service over Tarawa, Truk, Kwajalein in the Pacific. He was shot down by the Japanese over Mili Atoll and crashed into the sea on March 18, 1944 and was immediately added to the roles of MIA from the Central Pacific .
There is a gravestone in the family cemetery in Lincoln County with this simple statement, “A Place in Heaven Reserved for One”.
Donnie urges all friends and family members of those missing in action to contact the JPAC and DPMO organizations for further information. JPAC’s mission is to conduct global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts in order to support the Department of Defenses’ personnel accounting efforts.
While JPAC identifies an American about every four days, the recovery and identification process may take years. Since 2003, JPAC has identified more than 560 Americans. More than 1,800 Americans have been identified since the accounting effort began in the 1970s.