POWs honored at Capitol vigil

Joanna Dornfeld

Anthony Jurek will never forget the harrowing nightmare he suffered 50 years ago.

He served his country in the Korean War. But he ended up enduring 30 months of confinement as a prisoner of war.

“The Chinese used to tell us ‘We can keep you forever,'” Jurek told a group of ROTC members, veterans and their families on Friday, “(the POWs) not realizing how much truth there was in that simple, five-word statement.”

Jurek and other U.S. veterans gathered at the State Capitol on Friday to honor prisoners of war – and those who never came home.

The University Air Force ROTC and the Arnold Air Society sponsored the annual 24-hour POW/MIA candlelight vigil.

“Today we honor those whose presence is known only to God,” said Major General Eugene Andreotti, military chief of staff to the governor. “They fought and died to make America great.”

The vigil began at 3:30 p.m. A memorial candle, guarded by two Air Force cadets and midshipmen, burned a full day until Saturday’s closing ceremony.

The vigil occured at the State Capitol for the first time because of the larger crowd. Usually, the event is held at the University Armory.

“This year is one of the biggest they’ve had because of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War,” said Tera Jenson, Air Force ROTC cadet major, who planned the ceremony.

The Korean War was fought from 1950-53. It’s anniversary will be observed from June 2000 through November 2003.

Jim McTie, Air Force ROTC cadet first lieutenant, said it is important to honor those who served before him.

“It’s a great honor for those people who have given their life,” McTie said. “On a personal level, it’s important to me because my grandfather was a POW for 28 months in Germany.”

Many Americans, such as McTie, have personal tales of grandfathers or fathers living in POW camps.

Some have relatives who never came home, Jurek said.

He pleaded with the audience members to write their representatives and ask them to search for POWs left in the Soviet Union and China after World War II and the Korean War.

“What about the POWs who have been left behind?” Jurek asked. “It brings closure for a family that’s been waiting for 30, 40, 50 years or even longer.”

Jurek pointed to a wall displaying the names of POWs and MIAs.

“These are the men who have people waiting to learn their fate,” he said.

Besides honoring U.S. POWs and MIAs, attendees also honored the thousands of victims in the attacks on the East Coast

Jurek asked attendees to remember those civilians who died Sept. 11 as missing in action.

“I guess when you think about it you can almost see it that we are honoring the firemen and police,” McTie said. “(Those on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania) took a vote and fought the crew. A lot of them are still missing in action in some ways.”

And in the wake of possible retaliation to the terrorist attacks, Andreotti said University ROTC members and other young Americans must lead the nation in the coming months.

“What happened on Sept. 11 means that we have a need for military leaders like never before,” he said.

ROTC members who graduate this year will immediately enter military service and could be sent to fight the U.S. war against terrorism.

McTie, an ROTC member, said he’s ready if called.

“It’s something, when getting into ROTC, I knew could happen,” McTie said. “It’s something that I don’t want to do, but if that’s what my country asks me to do, that’s my job and I’ll do that.”