Cadets and midshipmen from the University of Virginia’s ROTC units will hold a 24-hour vigil to remember the prisoners of war and those missing in action, starting Monday at 3 p.m. in the McIntire Amphitheater.
The vigil will conclude Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. with a ceremony honoring veterans. Air Force Col. R. Wyn Elder, executive assistant to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a 1990 UVA and Air Force ROTC graduate, will be the speaker.
“We hold this vigil and ceremony every year to honor those who have been captured or gone missing while serving our great country,” Air Force Cadet Andrew Shaw said. “The silence while we march represents our gratitude toward them and gives us a time to reflect on what their service means to us.”
Ninety-two cadets and midshipmen will participate in the vigil, in groups of four rotating every hour, silently marching throughout the duration. The vigil will also feature a display of service flags, including the POW/MIA flag.
“The POW/MIA vigil is an opportunity for the community to honor those who have not come home,” said Air Force ROTC Cadet Marina Zielinski, deputy squadron commander of the Arnold Air Society Demas T. Craw Squadron and an organizer of the vigil. “I believe it is important for us to honor these servicemen and women as we take a moment to reflect on the gravity of their service.”
Zielinski noted that the ceremony honors not just the veterans’ service, but also the sacrifices of their families and friends.
“To have a loved one return home after combat is a wonderful feeling; to have a loved one be killed in action is a terrible tragedy; but for a loved one to be a prisoner of war or missing in action is a void I can not begin to fathom,” she said. “The vigil embodies the silence these families face. It gives us the chance to remember those who have given their all to this country, and it allows us to reflect on what service truly means to us.”
The veteran’s ceremony will feature a joint color guard and a flag-folding ceremony. The event will also include members of the Charlottesville and Albemarle Post No. 74 of the American Legion, who will provide a 21-gun salute, and a quartet of cadets and midshipmen will sing the national anthem.
“I couldn’t be more excited or proud to come back to the Grounds to speak on Veteran’s day and at the POW/MIA event,” Elder said. “In my current job, I have been part of the decisions to go rescue captured Americans and the idea of never leaving someone behind, and never forgetting them, is such an important ingredient in the essential bond between our all-volunteer military and our citizens.”
Elder is the commander of the 62nd Airlift Wing, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, where he oversees the readiness of more than 2,300 active-duty military and civilian personnel, along with 48 assigned aircraft, to support worldwide combat and humanitarian aid. In addition, the 62nd airlift wing is the sole one tasked by the Department of Defense with airlifting nuclear and nuclear-related cargo.
Elder joined the Air Force in 1991 after graduating from UVA with a degree in mathematics. He later earned a master of business administration from the University of Florida. His command experience includes an airlift squadron in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as commanding the 4th Airlift Squadron at the former McChord Air Force Base in Washington.
Also on Wednesday – Veteran’s Day – UVA’s Faculty and Staff Veteran Networking Community will host a lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Alumni Hall Ballroom for faculty and staff members who are veterans. Guest speaker for the event will be Air Force Col. Steven Hiss, commander of the UVA Air Force ROTC program. The organizers request attendees to RSVP for the event here by Nov. 2.
The luncheon is made possible through the support of UVA Dining and the UVA Alumni Association.