TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Between World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and more recent conflicts, the fate of more than 81,700 American service members remains unknown.
During the Vietnam War, an awareness campaign was launched, producing metal bracelets engraved with the names of soldiers missing in action or those taken captive as prisoners of war.
Those same bracelets are the inspiration behind a new addition to Florida’s Vietnam Memorial.
On the dome of the Old State Capitol, alongside the U.S. and Florida flags, flies the POW/MIA Flag with the words: “You are not forgotten.”
“From World War II to today, it’s over 80,000 people,” said Joe West, president of the Big Bend Chapter 96 of the Vietnam Veterans of America
West, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has spent the last three years working to establish a more permanent tribute to the men and women whose fate on the frontlines may never be known.
“The stumbling block we ran into was the legislative process,” West said.
The monument, already built and currently stored at a Tallahassee business, is modeled after metal POW/MIA bracelets that date back to 1970.
“That bracelet is a reminder that there’s just a lot of people that never came home,” West said.
It wasn’t until a government consultant offered to help with the project that it finally got the nod from the Legislature.
“He pretty much said, ‘Hold my beer, watch this,’ and he got done in six weeks what we failed to get done in three years,” West recalled.
The legislation ended up sailing through the Florida House and Senate this year with unanimous approval.
The POW/MIA Memorial will be added to the existing Florida Vietnam Memorial, and it won’t cost taxpayers a dime. The Big Bend Chapter 96 of the Vietnam Veterans of America is picking up the tab.
“The idea is for people 30, 40, 50 years from now to understand what my generation did to keep our freedoms and what it takes to keep a country free,” West said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to sign the legislation authorizing the POW/MIA memorial, but West said he’s been told it’s just a matter of time before that happens.
West said the hope is to have the memorial in place by Sept. 17 for an unveiling ceremony on National POW/MIA Recognition Day.