Candlelight vigil remembers POWs of all wars

Kelly Pearson

Members of the University ROTC spent part of the weekend protecting a solitary flame that represented the loss and commitment of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action from across generations.
“Just as they protected us in foreign soil, we will protect this candle in honor of them,” said University junior Cadet Joel Thesing, one of many volunteering for the job.
The candlelight vigil began with a performance by the Air Force ROTC Eagles Precision Rifle Drill Team. Later, ex-POW Kenneth Porwoll spoke of his many experiences as one of the few survivors of the World War II Bataan Death March in the Philippines.
Thesing said it was an honor to have Porwoll speak because few veterans of the death march survived.
Battling hunger, malaria, jaundice, dengue fever and separation from family and friends, Porwoll learned the survival techniques necessary to live.
“To survive, you have to obey the orders, and even though you don’t know Japanese, you’d better try to understand,” he said. “Food and water are two things we missed for three-and-a-half years.”
He now lives in Roseville, and he and his wife have nine children.
Following Porwoll’s speech, alumni, friends and family were invited to light a candle in honor of those who fought for their country, as the poem “Old Glory” was read in the background.
Once the single candle was lit, one-hour shifts began to keep the outside flame burning. The shifts were carried out by the cadets and midshipmen from the Air Force, Army and Naval ROTC.
For at least 10 years, the University has supported the ceremony, with about 40 student volunteers participating each year.
University ROTC member Shannon Farrell said the toughest thing about each ceremony is trying not to become emotional.
“It’s so intense,” he said. “And there’s a lot of emotions to people who have uniforms, to all people and to all that it entails — the service, the loss and the commitment.”
Colleges around the nation held similar candlelight vigils Friday night.
Coordinated and united by the Arnold Air Society — a community service organization that supports Air Force ROTC and military ideals — university groups hold the event to remember POWs and MIAs and invite family, friends and students to attend.
“It has always impressed me to come and watch the ROTC units because it restores our faith in the young people,” said resident and past vigil speaker Richard Carroll.
Thesing estimated 1,500 cadets nationwide spent hours protecting and honoring the candle.
“If no one appreciated these efforts, it would be an insult to (those) who fought for our rights,” he said.
The flame burned for MIAs and POWs of all wars, including the Korean, Vietnam and Desert Storm wars.
“If you don’t have the decency to stop and spend some time memorializing their lives, then I’d have a hard time understanding what we would feel as citizens,” Carroll said.
“Stop and think if you were unfortunate enough to spend the rest of your shortened life with no one to talk to, no friends,” he added. “Then you begin to understand war.”

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