Storm Cancels POW/MIA Ceremony; Jennings Rings NYSE Bell Honoring Missing Servicemen
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 24, 2003 When Hurricane Isabel battered the East Coast from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20, the devastating storm caused Defense Department officials to cancel this year's POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies at the Pentagon, which had been scheduled for Sept. 19, the day of the national observance.
The storm prevented the troops from marching and the band from playing outside, but POWs and missing servicemen were not forgotten.
Jerry D. Jennings participated in a tradition that started at the New York Stock Exchange in the 1870s. When he rang the closing bell, it signaled more than the closing of the day's trading. Jennings also rang the bell in commemoration of National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day.
Jennings, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, was the second to ring the exchange's closing bell in honor of POW/MIA Recognition Day.
"This started last year when a few folks from our POW/MIA Office were in New York for a family member update," said Staff Sgt. Matt Miller at the Air Force Personnel Center public affairs office at Randolph Air Force Base. "They'd heard of the POW/MIA flag hanging in the stock exchange and decided to go see it and get their picture taken with it."
Miller said the group from Randolph contacted Joann Loftus, the exchange's manager of public affairs for government relations, to arrange the visit.
"She said she had worn a POW/MIA bracelet for a missing serviceman since she was in high school," he noted. "So they decided that they'd bring a photo of the individual for whom she'd been wearing a POW/MIA bracelet for since high school."
In a telephone interview from her New York City office, Loftus said, "They came to take a photo of the POW/MIA flag and informed us that it was also National POW/MIA Recognition Day. "They brought me a picture of Capt. Jefferson Scott Dotson and gave me some background on him. They told me his remains had recently been recovered and repatriated.
"We gave that information to our chairman, who invited them to ring the closing bell," Loftus noted.
"This year they decided to do it again for POW/MIA Recognition Day, which was Sept. 19," Miller said. "Instead of the same people going up, they decided to make it a Department of Defense event. And Jerry Jennings, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, rang the bell."
Attending from last year were Col. Roger Corbin, Air Force Personnel Center director of accountability; Barney Frampton of the AFPC missing persons branch; and Stephen Stratton, a family member of Lt. Col. Charles W. Stratton, who was lost and eventually declared dead in Southeast Asia.
"What started out as a happenstance reoccurred," Miller said. "POW/MIA Recognition Day falls on the third Friday of September, and they're going to see if they can make this a regular occurrence."
Stock Exchange officials put the POW/MIA flags on the two monitors in front of the bell.
Jenning's office conducts "family updates" monthly in different geographical areas throughout the country. A POW/MIA spokesman said, "We present information in a straightforward and open manner to assist families in understanding the government's effort to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our missing in action -- from all wars."
The loud ringing of a bell signals the opening or closing of the day's trading at the New York Stock Exchange. Exchange officials said trading floor bells are more than just a colorful tradition -- they're critical to the orderly functioning of the marketplace, assuring that no trades take place before the opening or after the exchange closes. A Chinese gong was the original bell of choice, but in 1903 the gong was replaced by a brass bell.