An armed soldier guards his post, a man sits silently in a cage and cadets take turns carrying a flag in half-hour shifts.
This is not a war zone, nor a military training base. All of this took place on Auburn’s campus Friday.
The Auburn University Air Force ROTC held a day-long remembrance ceremony to honor all American prisoners of war and soldiers who never returned from their respective wars.
“Really, it’s just to honor the POWs and everything they do,” said Antionne Morris, freshman in software engineering. “We just do it to show our appreciation to those who have gone, because you don’t really hear about those people all the time. You hear about the people who have died and everything, but you don’t always hear about the POW and the MIA, so it’s just our way to give back.”
In 1998, Congress named the third Friday in September POW/MIA Remembrance Day.
One year later, Auburn ROTC units started holding ceremonies to honor POW and soldiers who are still missing in action.
Christina Locklear, a junior in mechanical engineering, said the Auburn Remembrance Day is held on a busy home football weekend to get the message out to as many people as possible.
Air Force ROTC Day of Remembrance consists of three activities, the guarding of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the running of the POW/MIA flag and a candlelight vigil to end the day’s ceremonies.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument in Arlington National Cemetery. The tomb was established to honor all soldiers who never returned from battle. For their POW/MIA Remembrance Day, the Air Force honor guard created a replica of the monument on the Haley Concourse.
“Armed guards protect the real tomb 24/7 in the snow, the rain, whatever,” said Josh Mattison, junior in aviation management. “Here at Auburn University, the Air Force honor guard guards it. The underclassmen guard the tomb in half-hour shifts while the upperclassmen supervise the changing of the guard.”
Locklear warned people not to come too close to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“The cadets carry a real rifle,” Locklear said. “It’s not loaded, but they will cock it and tell someone to move if they come too close.”
Air Force ROTC unit also set up a replica POW cage on Haley Concourse to show people the conditions in which POWs are forced to survive.
“We do a live representation of the POWs so people can actually see what they look like,” Morris said. “They don’t talk; they just sit in the cage to act as a representation of what people actually went through.”
All of the ROTC units on campus came together to honor the POW and MIA with the running of the flag. Members of each unit signed up in groups to run the POW/MIA flag around campus in half-hour shifts.
“Military institutions run the flag for 24 hours on POW/MIA Remembrance Day, but we only run it for 12,” Mattison said. “It’s an opportunity for the services to get together. We never get to do any combined projects.”
Locklear said the main intention of the running of the flag was to remind everyone of the soldiers who never return from battle.
“It’s a way to let students know what we’re observing,” Locklear said. “It lets students know what’s going on and what we’re remembering.”
To close out the day of ceremonies, a candlelight vigil was on the Nichols Center Lawn. This year, Maj. Robert Scroggins spoke about remembering those who gave their lives in service of their country. Taps was played as a final act to honor those who have not returned from battle.
Mattison said the POW/MIA Remembrance Day is a rewarding experience.
“To me, it’s important no matter where you are to observe those who never came home,” Mattison said. “We try to do our best to honor it.”