POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony

Honored In Tappahannock

Essex POW/MIA Recognition Day keynote speaker Michael Rawlings poses with Mistress of Ceremonies Patti Rowley.

Essex POW/MIA Recognition Day keynote speaker Michael Rawlings poses with Mistress of Ceremonies Patti Rowley.

Around 50 people gathered on the Essex County Courthouse Green the morning of September 15 for a National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony.

The keynote speaker was professional genealogist Michael Rawlings, of Center Cross, who has spent nearly 25 years researching efforts to help bring closure to families of veterans who remain listed as Missing In Action. His work is on behalf of the National Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

A U.S. Army veteran, Rawlings is an alumnus of The College of William and Mary and the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law, and is a member of the Virginia State Bar.

Rawlings said he received a piece of mail in 2000 while residing in Texas that changed his life.

“It was a letter informing me that our military had started a renewed focus on researching our prisoners of war and missing in action service members using advances in DNA that allowed new approaches to the identification and repatriation of our missing in action/killed in action service members from 20th century wars,” he told the audience.

Rawlings said he felt the task was perfect for him considering his background as a genealogist and Army veteran.

“I was given a difficult case to prove my mettle,” he said.

The case involved little information as most all military files had been lost in a fire in St. Louis in 1973.

“When we get these cases there is very little information and what information is available is gleaned from records kept in other parts of the War Department or the military branches,” Rawlings said.

He said the man went to war when he turned 18 and was killed in action the following year.

“This case pulled at my heart and reminded me how often that war is hell for many families,” Rawlings said. “Most of these men were between the ages of 18 and 25 and many were single and many of their families have passed away.”

Rawlings’s research has primarily involved deceased veterans from Southern states.

Later, Rawlings noted that genealogists are not part of the internal DPAA staff or organization.

“We’re working in the background directly with the casualty and mortuary affairs offices of the various branches of the military,” he said. “Our work usually predates by years the families’ attending the DPAA updates. Only after we complete our work as genealogists and private investigators that the DPAA and the branches of the military know who are the next of kin and potential DNA matches. My own work has been primarily with the U.S. Army.”

Rawlings also reflected on phone calls he makes to families once his work is completed.

“These calls are very difficult to make,” he said. “We live in a world where everyone fears scams. People are no longer willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a stranger cold calling them. I try to take 30 seconds to one minute to establish my credibility before someone hangs up the phone. Most often I must make multiple calls to convince a family member that the call is real.”

He also said reactions vary with most surprised and grateful “that anyone remembers our POW/MIA service members.”

He noted that some people are angry due to the length of time it takes for families to be contacted, while others express sadness because many widows and parents waited their entire lives for such a call before passing away.

Other participants in Friday’s event were Mistress of Ceremonies Patti Rowley, the Rev. Judy Davis of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tappahannock, Dorothy Miller who sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” Essex County Women’s Club President Kathy Hicks, the Rappahannock High School JROTC Honor Guard, and Thomas Blackwell who performed Taps.

The ceremony also featured the “Laying of Wreaths” by a variety of local organizations.

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