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Honoring those who serve

Christian County gets new marker for unknown soldiers

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Four men who survived the Korean War, came home and settled in Christian County took part in a special ceremony for Veterans Day. Together, they unveiled a marker that honors deceased service members whose remains have not been identified.

The marker will be placed at the Veterans Memorial outside the Nixa Community Center, which sits near the south entrance. The four Korean War veterans were among about 50 people who gathered at the X Center on Nov. 13, in observance of Veterans Day.

Al Michel, a veteran from Nixa, served as the keynote speaker and explained the significance of the marker. 2021 marks the 100-year anniversary of the placement of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

"Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God," an inscription on the side of the tomb reads.

Michel also explained the purpose of the three Greek figures carved in the marble on the side of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The three figures represent Peace, Victory and Valor.

Veterans Day, initially called Armistice Day, was established in 1918, in the wake of World War I. The first unknown soldier interred at Arlington was an American who died in France fighting in World War I.

"As we look back for a few minutes at World War I, the Great War, we learn very quickly that the battlefields of that war were a horrible place to be, with trench warfare, with deadly gases, with close range fighting from low artillery, machine guns and grenades, muddy fields, diseases and little medical help to support," Michel said.

As a result of the nature of the fighting, many dead soldiers were buried in unconventional places, in mass graves, or in makeshift graves on the battlefield. The nature of the conflict led to some tracts of land being taken, then lost, and then taken again several times over. As battle lines changed, it became more and more difficult to identify grave sites.

"Many were buried right where they died in the fields of France," Michel said. "Many have never been found. Today, both the German and the British war grave agencies consider that there are still possibly 80,000 soldiers from each country that are unaccounted for in the fields of France, and they are still considered missing."

Remains of World War I soldiers are still discovered, identified, returned to surviving family members and laid to rest in all of the nations involved in World War I.

The tomb now contains the remains of unknown American service members who died in World War II and the Korean War. An unknown American from the Vietnam War was later identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie and moved to a grave in St. Louis. The grave for Vietnam veterans at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is now kept empty, and honors the 2,054 missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War from 1958-1975.

Michel explained the role of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), part of the U.S. Department of Defense. The DPAA maintains a laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where unidentified remains are sent for evaluation.

"There is a team of 30 forensic anthropologists that are working to identify remains that have been found. Some remains come from land battles and some from sunken ships. In this team's most successful year, in 2019, two years ago, the remains of 217 people were found in more than 35 countries," Michel said.

The team's work never ceases.

Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing the tomb, and the guards who stand in protection of the tomb. In an effort to raise awareness of the effort to protect and preserve the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the group encourages cities and veterans groups across the country to place small garden markers that commemorate unknown and unidentified service members.

One marker will be placed at the Nixa Community Center. In the future, another will be placed at Nixa American Legion Post No. 434.

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