Center for Women in Transition recycles with help

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Amanda Reavy

Adam Ochs and Harry Ragle pace seven steps back and forth in front of the flagpole on the west side of the Armory Friday evening. The only sounds in the cold air are the wind whipping against the flag and the voice of Midshipman Ryan Fleetwood solemnly reading aloud the names of soldiers who have not returned from battle.

“I’m hearing all of the different names and thinking what they must have went through,” said Ochs, senior in engineering. “Someday it may be one of us, and I would like to be remembered this way.”

The three Navy ROTC midshipmen were volunteering their time to participate in a 24-hour vigil for prisoners of war and those missing in action. Cadets and midshipmen from the University Air Force, Army and Navy/Marine ROTC programs took turns standing guard over the flag while the names of more than 14,000 soldiers who have gone missing in conflicts since the Korean War were read in memorial.

“The purpose (of the vigil) is to promote awareness in our community and in our cadets regarding those who have served and not returned,” said Eric Penney, av cadet in Air Force ROTC and the vigil’s coordinator.

The vigil began at 10 a.m. Friday and concluded Saturday morning with a ceremony on the Armory lawn. During the night, winds topped 25 miles per hour and the wind chill reached below 20 degrees, said Penney, junior in aviation.

“That doesn’t bother us,” he said. “Those before us suffered much worse conditions.”

Penney said the vigil also helps cadets remember the risks they and their troops may face once they become officers on active duty. The vigil was held through the night to show the continuous struggle to bring back prisoners of war and strive for those missing in action to be found, he said.

Ragle, senior in nursing, said the 24-hour vigil also symbolizes vigilance.

“We want (prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action) to know there is always somebody waiting for them, always somebody thinking about them and guarding their home,” he said.

Penney said the vigil is held in silence to symbolize how prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action are fighting a silent battle to be found and return home.

Cadets and midshipmen also set up a white tent next to the flagpole, with posters, an empty chair and place setting to symbolize the absence of the soldiers who are unable to join their comrades in service.

“I hope the vigil gives a deeper understanding of the struggles of those who have become prisoners of war and missing in action,” he said. “Every one of us will be an officer and, at some point, we will be leading troops and some may be left behind. I hope the community will hear the names and have an understanding of what our cadets are here to do.”

More than 150 cadets and midshipmen volunteered their time to participate in the vigil, he said. One volunteer read names while two others stood guard in front of the flag. Six cadets rotated these positions every 15 minutes for one-hour shifts.

Ochs said he wanted to participate out of respect for all of the veterans and soldiers who have served before him. Ochs volunteered from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and returned to stand guard from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said. “Somebody has to stand watch just like it was stood for us.”

Ochs said the vigil honors missing and captured soldiers from all conflicts and all branches of service.

“They have all paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

Ragle said he knows people serving in Iraq and realizes the possibility that they might be taken prisoner or become missing in action.

More than 30 cadets and midshipmen participated in Saturday’s closing ceremony with the retirement of the flag and the playing of taps.

Ron Hubert, a Vietnam veteran who earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, spoke to the cadets and 14 onlookers, ranging from children to veterans. Hubert is also the president of Veterans’ Affairs in Champaign County. He thanked the University ROTC branches for honoring our country’s heroes and read a poem written by the wife of a soldier who died in combat. The poem urged Americans to continue their search for those missing in action.

“Veterans Day is the hardest day for me,” Hubert said. “I have made it my responsibility to help find these missing soldiers.”

Penney said he was happy with cadet turnout this year, and that this year’s ceremony demonstrated greater support from the community than in past years.

“I was happy to see everyone who came out in the cold and put their heart into it,” he said.