Philadelphia honors POW/MIAs with moving ceremony at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- With Veterans Day approaching in November, Philadelphians took time today, the third Friday of September, to recognize those who were taken prisoners of war or became missing in action.

Known as National POW/MIA Recognition Day, it calls attention to the tremendous sacrifices made for our country.

The Philadelphia Veterans Parade hosted the moving observance at the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"We say thank you and we salute you. We stand here today because of the price you paid," said Anthony Murphy, Board Chair of the Philadelphia Veterans Parade.

He recognized local POW/MIAs from the podium, addressing a socially-distant crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two former prisoners of war were in attendance. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Wade Jeffries shared his story with Action News.

"I guess it could have been worse," he said, "You know, being kept in the dark in the basement and being fed cheese and bread."

Jeffries was taken hostage in Iran in 1979. He remembers being used as a human shield when his captors were fighting enemy forces.

After two weeks, Jeffries was released. He recalls returning home to little fanfare. But he could not say the same was true about today's ceremony.

"You train to do a job and you don't think twice about doing it when called upon to do so," he said.

Such a feeling of obligation is something that was shared among the veterans in attendance.

"Patriotism, service, and sacrifice is never out of style," said Terry Williamson, President of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He remembers being a Marine Infantry Officer during the Vietnam War.

"When Vietnam Veterans returned home, they weren't treated in the same fashion as those from World War II," Williamson said. He says the memorial at the corner of Spruce Street and Columbus Boulevard was created in 1987 as a response to the improving national sentiment towards Vietnam Veterans.

Today, it played host to a harmonious gathering of all walks of life united in the same patriotic spirit. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic and national civil unrest, such events have been rare in the year 2020.

Luckily, Wade Jeffries has a message for the next generation.

"It is your patriotic duty to be patriotic and to love and serve your country as best you can and support your troops," he said.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran William Meade thinks that his experience in the military is an example of how Americans can unite.

"When you're in the military and you know you have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow Marine, you're not looking to see what color he is. You're not looking to see what sexual orientation he is," he said. "You're just making sure that he's doing his job and you're doing yours."

Meade thinks it's a vision that the next generation needs to see more frequently.

"A lot of young people who have never been in the military don't get that experience," he said.

Meade's final thoughts echoed throughout the solemn memorial site today through each unwavering display of unity.

"I pray that we will at some point all simply refer to each other as Americans," he said, "And realize that's what this country is about."

6abc Action News will air the upcoming Virtual Philadelphia Veterans Parade on Sunday, November 8, at 12:30pm.

For more information, visit their website.

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