ELKO — They are not forgotten.
Veterans were honored during the opening ceremony of the eighth Annual POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association Chili Feed, whether they made it home or were lost in combat.
POW*MIA tracks military men and women who are prisoners of war, missing in action, killed in action or presumed dead.
There are 16 Nevada residents who are missing from World War II through the Vietnam War.
The only current POW is U.S. army Sgt. Bowe Robert Bergdahl of Idaho. He was captured in Afghanistan by the Taliban in June 2009.
Vice President and Executive Officer Roger Butts gave a brief history of the National League of POW-MIA Families, the parent organization formed in 1970.
Another part of the ceremony was the Missing Man Table, which holds a place at every military dining function. Everything on the table has a symbolic meaning. The table is round for everlasting memory, and it is covered with a white cloth for the purity of the decision by military personnel to serve their country. A rose is placed on the table in remembrance, as well as a red ribbon to demonstrate the commitment to search for missing soldiers. The lemon is for the soldiers’ bitter fate and salt for the tears shed by families and friends. The candle symbolizes hope and the Bible faith. The drinking glass is inverted and the chair is empty in remembrance of the soldiers who cannot share in the meal.
Officers of local law enforcement placed a hat from each branch of the military on the table and saluted. Les Brown, the director of the Elko association, asked the law enforcement officers to come back on stage and thanked them for all they do for the group. This is the first time they have been included in the ceremony.
“They have 100 percent of the time stepped up when we’ve asked,” Brown said, adding they participate in funeral processions and parades.
After a slideshow of local pictures, Brown gave the numbers of uncounted soldiers since World War II. The total is 83,304.
“We made a promise to the men and women of the military to bring them home,” Brown said. “We’re a little behind on that. With your help, we can do it.”
For the last eight years, the local association has offered the Chili Feed as a fun thing to do for families and to raise money for a good cause. Events include a live and silent auction, raffle prizes “and a whole lot of eating chili,” Butts said.
Super 8 Motel, Red Lion Hotel & Casino, Gold Dust West Casino and Hilton Garden Inn made chili for the event. The audience did a blind taste test and voted for their favorite recipe.
Most of the money raised Saturday goes to the National League, Brown said. This year, the money from the auction items will go to Civil Air Patrol.
“Every year we try to pick a local organization to donate to,” said member Rich Dyer.
Some money goes to the local POW*MIA to fund events throughout the year as well, Brown said.
Another fundraiser is the “jail.” Audience members get a warrant for someone they’d liked to get arrested. The arrestee then has to pay bail and stay locked up until he or she can make the money. POW*MIA Youth Adviser Carinda Moore was 14 when she came up with the idea. New this year, the arrestees get mug shots taken.
Assemblyman John Ellison was the first person arrested because he escaped from the jail last year.
“I didn’t do anything!” Ellison said as he was booked. “Can you bail me out?”
Brown said the event gets bigger every year.
“We couldn’t do it without the community,” said secretary Kay Moore.
The local group has been invited to Washington for the league meeting in June for the fourth year in a row. Butts said they’ve been asked to be the sergeant-at-arms, the first group to have the honor in 43 years.
POW*MIA Elko Awareness Association has 25 active members and 168 members across the county.