When Army veteran Gary Napier talks today at the Lawrence Veterans of Foreign Wars post’s ceremony for POW/MIA Recognition Day, he will urge everyone to think of it from another perspective.
“If we were out there, we wouldn’t want to be forgotten,” said Napier, who served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. “Hopefully somebody would send someone back in and say bring them in, find them.”
He will deliver his message as part of the VFW Alford-Clarke Post No. 852’s annual ceremony to honor prisoners of war and military members who are still missing. The ceremony is open to the public. It will begin at 6 p.m. at the post, 138 Ala., and a dinner will follow.
According to the national VFW organization, more than 83,000 Americans are still missing or unaccounted for in the nation’s wars going back to World War II. A majority are from World War II.
“If someone in the family is reported missing, it stays with that family forever,” Lawrence post commander Fred Shockey said. “It’s a scar that never heals, and just not knowing what happened is the biggest thing.”
Also as part of the ceremony, Lawrence post members will read the names of the more than 30 service members from Kansas who are included in the national list.
Napier said he also wants to use the day to draw attention to other issues veterans have had after they came back home from Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm or, with even the youngest veterans now returning, from Iraq and Afghanistan.
They can suffer from mental health issues and need help coping with post-traumatic stress disorder as they attempt to reintegrate back into society. Suicide is a major problem among Vietnam veterans, and Napier said it seems to be a recurring problem with younger ones.
Napier, a clinical nurse specialist in the behavioral health clinic at the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka, works with veterans daily. He hopes to bring more awareness to the public about veterans’ mental health issues as well.
“We should not forget people who are amongst us who are lost, too,” he said.