BY LENA MITCHELL
The story of Jessica Lynch's short but painful time as a prisoner of war in Iraq captured America's attention as a poignant and romantic story.
At the same time, loved ones of 1,882 Americans still missing from the Vietnam War fear that the sacrifices of that POWs and MIAs of Vietnam and other conflicts will be forgotten.
"More than 145,000 Americans since World War I have endured the hardship of captivity as prisoners of war," said Vietnam Veterans president William "Bill" West of Tupelo.
"In order to keep their memory preserved, we, the Vietnam veterans, must all join together as a group and have our voice heard. We have counted on the World War II veterans to lead us for over 50 years. Now it is time for us to step up and take the lead."
Today, Tupelo Chapter 842 of Vietnam Veterans of America takes the lead by presenting an official POW/MIA flag to the city of Tupelo in recognition of the annual POW/MIA Remembrance Day.
"When we decided during a meeting that we'd like to present a flag to the city and fly it, we went to a City Council meeting, and they gladly agreed," West said.
The group will present the flag to the mayor and council at 5 p.m. today at Veterans Park on North Veterans Boulevard.
A POW remembers
Almost six decades have hardly dimmed 83-year-old David O. "Son" Puckett's memory of his captivities: the Tokyo jail, where he spent his first two weeks in 1945 as a prisoner of war; the interrogation camp at Ofuna, Japan; or the Atsugi prison camp on Tokyo Bay.
"We took off the first flight of the day Feb. 16, 1945, and did what we were supposed to do," Puckett said. "My fighter squadron's orders were to go over to the main island of Japan and knock out all the enemy aircraft on the ground or in the air, wherever they might be, to keep them from coming over to Iwo Jima" where an invasion was planned for Feb. 19.
After a successful morning mission, Puckett was among 16 Navy pilots sent that day on a second mission from the USS Bennington.
"When we took off that time, we had bad luck. Five of us didn't get back," he said. "Only two out of five got back to the U.S. We became POWs immediately."
Puckett was freed about six months later when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The memory of that time has made the years since he returned to Tupelo that much more treasured.
"It all flashes back," Puckett said, "and it was just pure dee luck that two of us got home and others didn't."