JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hundreds of people gathered for the POW-MIA Memorial “Gathering in the Pines” event at Cecil Field on Saturday. The Veteran Council organized the event to honor the sacrifice made by servicemen and women who are missing in action or prisoners of war.
Since World War II, more than 82,000 service men and women have gone missing in action, and veterans attending the event say not a single one has ever been forgotten.
Veteran Steven Spickelmier is chairman of the Veterans Council of Duval County, and served in the military for 26 years.
"My career was with the Navy and Air Force," said Spickelmier.
He enlisted right after he graduated from high school in 1961 for important reasons.
"Freedom, freedom and peace," Spickelmier said.
It's that freedom Mike Cassata wants to defend.
"I always wanted to serve," Cassata said.
And at age 38, he's serving as the executive director of the Cecil Field POW-MIA Memorial.
"I am about to get my commission next week in the U.S Navy.
The event is designed to inspire, inform, and remind everyone of the ultimate sacrifice service members make to protect our freedom.
"It is hard to me to imagine the families not having the personal closure. I know for me, I would never want to leave anybody behind, ever. Every branch, every service member, you always want to reach down and bring that person back home with you."
In July, North Korea turned over what they say are 55 cases holding the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean war
"That is so important for each individual who knows the possibility for closure for those families," Spickelmier said.
This week, President Donald Trump announced the names of the first of the remains to be identified. One soldier was from North Carolina, the other from Indiana.
"That means a lot to me because I was born in a small town of Huntington, Indiana. And I know the Hoosiers in that state will put him to rest with full military honors," said Spickelmier.