While it has not yet officially reached national recognition status just yet, nearly all 50 states have agreed to proclaim National POW/MIA Recognition Day as the third Friday of September, making such a day this week on Friday, Sept. 20.
The National League of Families was created decades ago along the West Coast, according to its website, due to the belief of its founding members that the United States did not do enough to honor soldiers who do not return home or are not accounted for from foreign countries.
Over time, the organization would grow to become very influential and help to raise support for captured soldiers or those missing in action. However, even more can still be done to bring such an issue to the minds of residents in communities across the country.
Locally, Voorhees Township honors veterans every year through its Veterans Wall of Honor located at the Voorhees Town Center. Each year, Mayor Michael Mignogna, committee members, township officials and more honor veterans with a connection to Voorhees who are placed on the wall with a special ceremony, with the wall now entering its sixth year this upcoming October.
In the past, the wall has made special sections to honor war dogs, African American soldiers from the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, those killed in action and more.
This year, the Voorhees Town Center will see an addition to the ways it honors veterans with a POW/MIA Chair of Honor to be added near the Voorhees Veterans Wall of Honor.
Jeanette Schelberg, former township clerk for Voorhees Township, helped create the Veterans Wall of Honor after a suggestion from a resident years ago. Ever since, Schelberg, also a veteran herself, has sought veterans who could be placed on the wall, complete with a picture from their days in their particular branch along with applicable information on a plaque.
While attending an event in Philadelphia earlier this year, Schelberg says she learned of the POW/MIA chair for the first time, an idea first created by the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Organization years ago.
“The Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Organization is very proactive about prisoners of war and those missing in action from the Vietnam War,” said Schelberg. “But when they first started to bring this to the forefront, others also said that the United States has missing from various other conflicts, and that kind of got the country more aware of how many United States service members are unaccounted for to this day.”
POW/MIA chairs have already been placed in various locations across the country, such as government buildings, schools, sports arenas and more, to symbolize the men and women who never returned home from conflicts. The black chair with the POW/MIA emblem is not to be sat in. It serves as a reminder to those who see it that someone who never returned home should occupy that space.
“The purpose of the chair is to remind people that there are still thousands of U.S. servicemen and women, most of whom were teenagers when they left, that never got to come home,” said Schelberg. “As time passes, they’re remembered and known only to the family and friends that they left behind, they’re not generally known to the public.”
For Schelberg, the addition of the chair means something slightly more personal. Of the nearly 400 veterans who currently hang on the wall, one stands alone as the only to be labeled missing in action – her older brother, Joseph Francis Toner.
Toner, a corporal in the U.S. Army, disappeared at the age of 19 in Korea during November 1950. After learning of the POW/MIA chair, Schelberg thought immediately that the chair would serve as a way to honor thousands across the country, as well as those who might be from New Jersey, Camden County or even Voorhees Township.
With Toner being 18 years older than Schelberg, she never had the chance to meet and know her older brother. Regardless, the chair serves as a way for her, and others, to remind Americans of people with stories like his.
“A lot of these people like my brother were teenagers. They didn’t have a chance to come back and live their life, so they don’t have families to remember them,” said Schelberg. “But the purpose of this chair is to help keep it at the forefront of people’s minds, while also reminding those in the military, or those that might be thinking about joining the military, that there will always be people in this country that make sure our governmental officials do what they need to do to provide the resources to locate our missing and bring them home.”
The POW/MIA Chair of Honor is expected to be placed in the Voorhees Town Center by this year’s Voorhees Veterans Wall of Honor Ceremony this October, when an additional 38 veterans with connections to Voorhees Township will be added to the wall.