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Veterans ask Jackson County to fly POW/MIA flag

A group of veterans who served in wars from World War II to Iraq are calling on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to fly a POW/MIA flag from a county flagpole.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said commissioners will meet with county staff next week to hear information about potential costs and logistical issues related to flying a flag commemorating prisoners of war and military members who are missing in action. He said he expects commissioners will make a decision fairly soon.

The veterans spoke at a county commission meeting Wednesday, with some telling personal tales of what they and others had endured as prisoners of war.

"I absolutely appreciate all their service and sacrifice, but to hear the specific tales of what they went through, it really does bring it home for you," Dyer said. "It was very compelling to me."

Walter Haines, now in his 90s, was a dive bomber pilot who was shot down on his birthday in 1941 during World War II. He and his gunner survived the crash, but were taken to prisoner-of-war camps controlled by the Japanese in Indonesia.

"I have been beaten. I have been left for dead on the grounds of the prison camp where we were," Haines said.

He become a cook, serving up tons of rice each day for thousands of prisoners who came from many different nations.

"Put up a new flagpole," Haines told commissioners. "Let's do something. Let's not forget our prisoners."

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said her own grandfather was a POW and survived on turnips.

The veterans asked the commissioners to fly a POW/MIA flag in the August D. Singler Memorial Plaza between Jackson County Circuit Court and the Jackson County Jail. The plaza memorializes law enforcement officers in the county who lost their lives in the line of duty, including Singler, who was shot by an outlaw while serving as sheriff in 1913.

The veterans pointed to a law passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2015 that requires a POW/MIA flag to be flown at all state and county courthouses with existing flagpoles. The law also requires that all newly constructed public buildings be capable of properly displaying national, state and POW/MIA flags simultaneously.

The August D. Singler Memorial Plaza is home to a single flagpole with an American flag.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said it would cost about $15,000 to have three flagpoles on the plaza. The current pole is too short to properly display the American, state and POW/MIA flags together, he said.

If flown on the same pole, the United States flag is on top, the POW/MIA flag is in the middle and the state flag is at the bottom, according to the National League of POW/MIA Families.

This week, with American flags lowered in remembrance of those killed in the Las Vegas mass shooting, the United States flag at the plaza is so low it can almost be touched on the bottom by people reaching up.

Jordan said state law doesn't require existing buildings to add additional or taller flagpoles to accommodate a POW/MIA flag if their poles aren't sufficient. It's up to the commissioners to decide whether they want to voluntarily make improvements to fly a POW/MIA flag properly, he said.

The veterans noted the city of Medford is flying a POW/MIA flag.

The city has a grouping of flagpoles in front of Medford City Hall. Flags flying individually on poles at city hall include the American, state and POW/MIA flags.

The veterans said flying the flag recognizes American's commitment to not leave soldiers behind, even if they are missing in action and presumed dead. They noted remains of American soldiers from past wars are still  being discovered and identified.

Vietnam veteran Frank Sobotka said Oregonians are among those who are still missing in action. He said flying the POW/MIA flag is the bare minimum the county can do to honor those who served. Sobotka said the flag sends a message.

"You are not forgotten," he said.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.