Madrigal for the Unaccounted

The United States Navy has strong traditions and tight order and discipline because we hail from the days of wooden ships on the high seas. Even our shared festivities are covered by the issuance of various operational naval instructions. At the end of a humanitarian tour in Ghana, W. Africa (WATC02) we provided a dining in experience for the men who had housed us, led our convoy each day, and provided perimeter security for the barracks of the Army Recruit Depot. We were immensely grateful for their professionalism and the camaraderie which they provided.

OPNAVINST 1710.7A is the Department of the Navy Social Usage and Protocol Handbook. An instruction within this handbook was used to set one very special table for the dining in for the officers and enlisted troops.

Anytime we have a formal dining experience a small table is placed at the front of the mess to honor our POW/MIA community. The table is smaller than the others to represent the frailty of the one prisoner alone, against their oppressors. It is always round to show our concern for them is never ending. This small table is draped with a simple white tablecloth. It represents the purity of their response to our country's call to arms. The empty chair depicts an unknown face, representing no specific Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman, but all who are not with us. The table can actually be set for one or four - with or without hats.

Each item on the table is a significant symbol. We place the items on the table carefully, and according to military tradition. The black napkin stands for the emptiness in the hearts of the families. A single red rose and red ribbon represents our love for country which inspired our call. The yellow candle and its yellow ribbon symbolize everlasting hope for a joyous reunion with those unaccounted for. The wine glass upside down reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot enjoy a toast with us. But it is the bread plate, which causes me to bow my head in humility. On this plate are slices of lemon and salt. The slices of lemon remind us of their bitter fate and the salt reminds us of the tears of the family. Pity. It is pity for the families which temper our wonderful dining in experiences.

Last week I received a dossier (of sorts) from a retired Colonel from India with the names of 54 officers and enlisted, still unaccounted for since the time of the mighty upheaval of the 1971 conflict. His plea to ascertain the disposition of his comrades; to seek the repatriation of those who may possibly still be among the bundle of the living, was passionate. It reminded me of the words of a friend:

"Time is the stuff from which we are made. But there is gold within us, mined beyond time. Perhaps we touch that gold, when we are absorbed in what we love."

The writings received into my e mail contain many smoke signals, and factoids which I cannot verify. But I am also cognizant that just as there is smoke on the physical battlefield, there are smoke screens within the intellectual battlespace, especially when seeking to approach a security apparatus regarding the repatriation of prisoners of war. It has been over four decades now since these men went missing. Are any of these military men still alive and in custody? Or are they deceased casualties of war? The rational mind would consider all possibilities.

I chose the title, "Madrigal for the Unaccounted" with good reason. I sought the use of a medieval prose, one which would reflect the very nature of the hardships of battle in a different era, when poultice and ragged bandage were the only things available for battlefield wounds.

But what is the balm for the wounds of the heart? The word madrigal is believed to have originated from the latin root of the word for "womb". The document I received came from a military womb. I can assure you that I understand the birthing process which moved me from civilian status into the officer ranks. My culture and manner of thinking changed after I took my oath of office. I understand the angst of the officer who sent me his research. I understand, because I have seen a simple round table with a linen white tablecloth.

I also chose the word madrigal because it is a song with two or more voice parts which are unaccompanied and it ends with a two line strophe called a ritornello. The word means "return". You have heard the voices of two on this page. Let me now set the POW/MIA table for you with the names of a few - the madrigal for the unaccounted:

*Major SPS Waraich IC-12712 15 Punjab *Major Kanwaljit Singh Sandhu IC-14590 15 Punjab *Lt SM Sabharwal SS-23957 87 Lt Regiment *Lt SM Sabharwal SS-23957 87 Lt Regiment *Capt Ravinder Kaura SS-20095 39 Med Regiment * Sq LDR Sudhir Kumar Goswami 8956-F (P) * Flying Officer Sudhir Tyaga 10871-F(P) *Flying Officer Flt Lt Vijay Vasant Tambay 7662-F(P) *Major AK Gosh IC-18790 15 Rajput *Capt OP dalal SS-22536 Grenadiers

On 9 July 2012 the DPMO (Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office) announced that the remains of six military men, missing in action from the Vietnam War, were recently identified and being returned to their families for burial. Their names and ranks are: *Air Force Colonel Joseph Christiano, *Colonel Derrel B. Jeffords, *Lieutenant Colonel Dennis L. Eilers, *Chief Master Sergeant Arden K. Hassenger *Chief Master Sgt. William K Colwell and, *Chief Master Sergeant Larry C. Thornton. These men were interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on July 9th. A single casket was placed into the ground, representing the entire crew. Closure for the families.

Lemons and salt.

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