Almost 45 years ago, Jo Anne Shirley made a promise to her brother that she intends to keep. That is why she has spent the last four decades doing everything in her power to find him, the only flight surgeon still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
Bobby Marvin Jones was in non-combat flight in Thailand on November 28, 1972, when his plane suddenly went off the radar. It is believed that it crashed on a remote mountain, but after several excavations by the U.S. government, his remains are yet to be found.
Still, his sister is persistent, not only for the sake of their family but also for all families who have loved ones still unaccounted for and missing.
League of families
Jones’s disappearance prompted Shirley and her parents to become active in the National League of POW/MIA Families, whose sole purpose, according to its website, “is to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War.”
So moved by the league’s cause, Shirley ended up serving on the board for 18 years, 15 of which she was chairman. She is now Georgia state coordinator.
“I learned very quickly … [that] it’s not just about Bobby,” she said. “It’s about all of our guys who are missing and unaccounted for.”
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, there is still a total of 82,694 missing American troops from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts.
“To protect our country, we have to assure our military and their families that we are not going to leave them behind, and we are going to do everything we can [to find the missing],” Shirley said.
That is why public awareness is critical.
Days of recognition
One way to create awareness is to observe the annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day the third Friday in September. On this day each year, federal law requires that the POW/MIA flag fly in places designated by the secretary of defense. People are encouraged to use the hashtag #POWMIARecognitionDay on social media in an effort to draw attention to the day, honor former prisoners of war, and remember those who are still missing.
America is also responsible for remembering servicemen and women who are still living; therefore, November 11 – Veterans Day – is set aside each year to honor and thank American veterans of all wars, specifically “living veterans who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime,” according to military.com. In 2001, a resolution was passed in the U.S. Senate to make November 11-17 National Veterans Awareness week with an emphasis on educational efforts to teach students about the contributions and sacrifices of veterans.
Shirley says the families of POWs and MIAs cannot bring about such awareness, education, and honor alone. They need spiritual, emotional, and financial support from their fellow Americans.
“What we do is not just for our missing; it’s for those who are serving today,” Shirley explained. “We now have a process in place [for recovery] that is better than it was 40-something years ago when my brother became missing, and we want to keep it moving forward.”
“The National League of Families is the reason this issue is as active as it is now,” she added. “We’ve been blessed, but we have a long way to go.”
National League of POW/MIA Families
To inquire about a missing loved one:
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
Editor’s Note: The above blog was adapted from a feature that was originally published in the September 2016 issue of AFA Journal.