Empire Editorial: Honoring sacrifice and courage

We owe a debt of gratitude and respect to all military veterans who have served our country, but today is set aside for the few who survived a great ordeal, and those who did not.

Today, Sept. 20, is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, the third Friday in September.

According to the American Legion website, “This commemoration is set aside to honor the commitment and sacrifices made by this nation’s prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action, as well as their families.”

By resolution, the American Legion dedicates an empty chair at its meetings as “a physical symbol of the thousands of American POW/MIAs still unaccounted for from all wars and conflicts involving the United States.”

It is easy to take things for granted. Things like mobility, freedom to travel, the choice of what to eat, even your basic safety.

It’s easy, unless you have had all that taken from you endured the fear and isolation of imprisonment by a foreign government as a prisoner of war. Those who will talk about their experiences, and understandably not all do, may tell you they never take these things for granted.

One former Vietnam-era POW recently visited Juneau on a speaking tour, and we wanted to share a few of his thoughts again today.

We reported in May that Charlie Plumb has told his story nearly 5,000 times over the past 40 years. He was shot down and spent six years in a Vietnamese POW camp, learning code to communicate with other inmates. Learning to survive unspeakable conditions. Learning about himself. Learning to endure torture. Eventually, he learned how to cope with those memories and inspire others with his story.

If you were fortunate enough to have heard him speak at Centennial Hall, you might agree with him that a person needn’t be military and needn’t have experienced war to relate to his hardships.

“The techniques I learned in POW camps to overcome challenges, to turn adversity into advantage — they’re the same techniques people can use for everyday life,” Plumb told the Empire. He said adversity really does make one stronger.

Life in the camp taught him, “I can still control my attitude, I can still choose to laugh or to cry, I can choose to be positive or negative... to choose to be negative is to give the enemy control over my destiny.”

Today we not only remember the words of Charlie Plumb, we think about those who suffered in captivity at the hands of America’s enemies, and those who never made it back to our shores.

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