ORLANDO – Thomas A. Janke can remember so vividly the night of July 20, 1969, the day an American astronaut first landed on the moon.
What he remembers so strongly about that history-making night is where he was at the time it was happening. Janke was serving in the United States Army, as a soldier in the midst of the Vietnam War.
“That very same night, I was hiding in a ditch,” Janke said. In the pitch dark on a dirt road in Vietnam, he can recall being “alone and running into the night, saying ‘Let me not shoot a friend.’ “
Standing before a large crowd in the Rotunda at Orlando City, Janke said he often wonders how history could create some sharply contrasting scenes at the same time – a highly controversial war that deeply divided a nation, and a mission into space that united the country in celebrating such a remarkable achievement.
He recalled a letter that his then-young son sent to him while he was serving in Vietnam, in which the boy simply asked, “Who’s winning?” Looking back at that question today, Janke said, and the answer is now obvious.
“We are,” Janke said. “America is winning because of the men and women who serve us.”
Janke, a retired Colonel who is now the regional director of the Orlando Metropolitan campus of Webster University, was the guest speaker on Friday during a POW-MIA Recognition Ceremony hosted by the Mayor’s Veterans Advisory Council. It was designed to give active and meaningful support to the city’s veterans – and, as Janke noted, to always remember them.
“We do this in three ways – remembrance, honor and love,” he said.
The ceremony included a Presentation of Colors by the Winter Springs High School Army ROTC and the National Anthem performed by the Orlando DAR All American Singers and Proud Veterans Chorale from the VFW Post 2093 Band.
Rev. Richard D. Black, a retired USN Captain who gave the invocation, called on those attending the ceremony to remember and pray for the soldiers who never returned from combat.
“Our prayers are sent to those who may even now be languishing,” he said. “We will not forget those whose location is known only to you, o Lord.”
He added, “Guide those who continue to search and hopefully find these heroes.”
Michael Waldrop, chairman of the Mayor’s veterans Advisory Council, said the ceremony also pays tribute to all who served to defend this nation – including those in attendance who were at one time prisoners of war.
“We have many of them here today, and it’s an honor to recognize the sacrifices you have made – and the sacrifices your families made — in defending this nation,” he said.
City Commissioner Samuel B. Ings read a proclamation declaring Friday, Sept. 14 as POW-MIA Recognition Day in the city of Orlando.
“This is a wonderful day in America where we can come together and remember those who are prisoners of war, and who are missing in action,” he said. “The POW-MIA flag flies at City Hall as a powerful reminder that we will continue to honor those who served selflessly.”
Janke also noted that many of today’s veterans continue to struggle with a host of issues, including substance abuse, joblessness and even homelessness.
“Florida has the second largest veterans population in America, and one-third are homeless,” he said. “We honor with our remembrance, but true honor comes with action. We can’t reach back, but we can reach out.”
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