Charles County Flies POW/MIA Flag
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Charles County Flies POW/MIA Flag
La Plata, MD - 9/25/2012
By Andy Marquis
Charles County will be the first county government in the state of Maryland to fly a POW/MIA flag every day. The POW/MIA flag was flown on Tuesday during a moving ceremony remembering Private First Class Francis DeSales Wills. Wills was taken as a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War.
Wills was born on October 18, 1944 and grew up in La Plata, MD. He attended the segregated Bel Alton High School. He was active during the civil rights movement before being shipped to Vietnam. Wills was assigned to the Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
It was on February 26, 1966 that Wills and Seargant Donald Newton were possibly taken as Prisoners of War. They were listed as Missing in Action.
“Absolutely wonderful,” Wanda Wills Woodland, niece of Francis Wills, said about the county’s ceremony. “Charles County Government, the Charles County Sheriff’s Department, Rolling Thunder, family, friends and community came out in dedication and honor and they did it first class. The Wills family is grateful.”
James Shekleton of the Rolling Thunder Maryland Chapter 1 put things in motion. He worked with the county and the Rolling Thunder Maryland Chapter 1 to make the ceremony happen.
“Someone once said dying for my country isn’t the worst thing that can happen,” Shekleton said. “Being forgotten is. With raising this flag today, it shows these men will never be forgotten.”
“I think it’s a great ceremony,” Lowell Lamoreau, president of the Rolling Thunder Maryland Chapter 1 said. “It’s something that’s long overdue. When James Shekleton brought it to the attention of the chapter that they don’t raise the POW flag in Charles County or in Maryland, we were shocked. This is a great step, it’s something that needs to be done because we have to remember all the POW/MIAs. If we don’t educate the public, it’s going to be forgotten. This is the first step in taking Maryland by storm with all the flags being raised everywhere. This is a very good ceremony. Our job is to educate the public and remind the government that we have people missing.”
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D: 1st) commented about people not knowing about what the POW/MIA flag meant.
“I was recently in New York City driving on a highway called the Belt Parkway which is dedicated to the memory of POWs and MIAs and there are signs commemorating that,” Robinson said. “In the car with me was a 22 year-old college graduate cousin of mine who asked me, ‘What does pow mia mean?’ From this day forward, let’s make sure every generation knows what POW/MIA means.”
“Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are here to honor all of our veterans, particularly our veterans of the Vietnam era,” Commissioner President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said. “In addition, we are here to think and take some time to reflect on those who are POWs. But most importantly, we are here to bring home Francis DeSales Wills. He lives only 22 years, ladies and gentlemen. It’s taken us almost 50 years to bring his spirit home. For his family today, we wrap our arms around you. This Board of Commissioners wants you to know we are with you in spirit and in heart.”
Captain Michael H. Smith, USN, Commander of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, spoke about the importance of voting, saying it’s the least that Americans could do for those fighting to defend the country and its freedom.
Norman Saunders, a former POW and a Purple Heart recipient, also spoke, as did members of the Wills family, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Charles County Chapter President Janice Wilson, Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) and each of the commissioners. Coffey said his biggest regret in life was not signing up to serve in Vietnam. Maryland State Delegate Peter Murphy (D: 28th District, Charles County) and representatives from the offices of Senator Barbara Mikulski (D: MD), Senator Ben Cardin (D: MD) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D: MD-5th) also spoke at the ceremony.
Taylor Grant, a student at La Plata High School, played The Performance of Taps. The Lackey High School Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard were also on hand. The flag will fly outside the Charles County Government Building and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office. Wills is the only known POW in Charles County.
More photos can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151158034679437.465975.508899436&type=1
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