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Raising awareness

Flag flies in memory of POWs, MIAs
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The black and white flag for America’s missing in action joined the red, white and blue on one of Auburn’s most prominent flagpoles Friday. And as the flag snapped in a stiff breeze above Veterans Memorial Park and below Old Glory, heads turned proudly upward, a school choir sang the National Anthem and veterans’ thoughts drifted to those left behind in the fields of Normandy or in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam veteran R.C. Bynog had made it a goal to have the flag fly this year on national POW-MIA Remembrance Day. The Auburn ironworker sold commemorative hats to raise funds for the flag and helped convince county authorities that the flag deserved a place on a pole it had never graced before. Friday’s ceremony took Bynog back to a time when he was barely 20 and driving convoy vehicles east of Saigon. He turns 60 later this year. “It’s important,” Bynog said. “So we don’t forget the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice.” The audience of 30 or so was peppered with World War II and Korean War veterans, the mother of a soldier — Ranger Kristofer Thomas — who died in Iraq, the Placer High School choir, and Vietnam War service members. Bynog said families of those soldiers who continue to be missing in action also have to be remembered. “It shows that people care and that they also are not forgotten,” he said. Court Bradbury, Post 84 American Legion adjutant, said that the thought is instilled in members of the military from boot camp on that nobody is left behind. Because of jungle conditions in Vietnam, locating the dead wasn’t always possible and veterans groups continue to lobby for funding to search for the missing. Even a small bone fragment can contain enough DNA to solve another case of a missing soldier, Bradbury said. And that would trigger a funeral on American soil and closure, he said. There are 2,500 service members still listed on the Vietnam War Memorial as missing in action. Federal records show 74,000 still missing in action from World War II, 8,000 from the Korean War and 72,000 from World War I. Two are missing in action from Iraq and Afghanistan. R.J. Gamble — who like Bynog, is a member of the Vietnam/Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club — said it would be easy enough to “sweep it under the rug.” “But this flag represents the missing in action past, present and future,” Gamble said. “This is in honor of all veterans who gave all for their country.” Bynog said that he has raised enough funding to give away flags to fly on other Auburn area flagpoles. The newly hoisted POW-MIA flag sits on a pole that has a commanding view of Interstate 80 at the Highway 49 intersection. Bynog said he drove by the flagpole the past seven years wondering why the black and white banner was not flying, too. “Every day I would be complaining as I drove by to go to work,” he said. “Finally I said to myself that I had to do something about it, that we’re not going to let this die out.” Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.