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Never forget: Stonebraker speaks at POW/MIA recognition ceremony

Sep 18 2019
David Snow | KY New Era

PADUCAH – Cindy Stonebraker's father was missing in action from Vietnam while flying a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Kenneth Stonebraker took off from Udorn Airfield in Thailand on Oct. 28, 1968, on a solo night mission and never came back.

Cindy Stonebraker related her story to several people who turned out for Saturday's POW/MIA Recognition ceremony on the McCracken Courthouse lawn. The week of Sept. 14-20 was declared POW/MIA Recognition Week by Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless, a time to remember American prisoners of war and those who are missing in action. Friday is national POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The Paducah Tilghman High School ROTC presented the colors, and members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1191 and American Legion Post 31 also took part in the ceremony.

Stonebraker told the audience her story, but it is a story of many other families whose soldiers have not returned. As of Friday, there are 1,587 service members missing from the Vietnam War, 72,661 missing from World War II, 7,616 from the Korean War and 132 missing from the Cold War and Middle East conflicts – a total of 81,996 missing.

"Growing up, this was something that our family never really talked about," she said. "We didn't talk about it at home, and we certainly didn't talk about it in public."

In 2012, Stonebraker's life would change. While driving from Hopkinsville to Clarksville, she stopped at a rest stop to get a map of Land Between the Lakes to take her son to see the bison.

"All I wanted was a map," she said. "When I got there, there were seven Rolling Thunder (motorcycle club) members hoisting the POW/MIA flag. When they got done, for the first time, I said, 'My father is still missing in Vietnam,' and they embraced me. They told me that I was the reason they did what they did, and my dad hadn't been forgotten."

A couple of months later, the motorcycle club members called Stonebraker and asked her if she would join them for a POW/MIA Recognition ceremony in Americus, Georgia. The event was called "The Ride Home," and the club invited family members of those who are missing or were prisoners of war for a weekend to be honored.

She was hesitant about going, and family members were also leery about her going from Kentucky to Georgia with a motorcycle club, but she said, "I had this gut feeling that I needed to go, so, I got in my car and I drove to Americus, Georgia."

When she got to the Georgia event, she met seven other people like her, people she could talk to about her father because they, too, had family members who were missing in action.

"That weekend forever changed my life," she said. "Because of that weekend, I've spent the last five Fathers Days in Washington, D.C., at the Vietnam Memorial Wall. All of us brothers and sisters walk hand-in-hand, and we stop at every daddy's name."

Stonebraker was able to get all of her father's military records, and he has a memorial marker at the Arlington National Cemetery.

"All of a sudden, now, I don't feel all alone," she said.

Stonebraker now serves and the Kentucky state coordinator for the League of POW/MIA Families and serves on the board of the National League of POW/MIA Families. She is a Gold Star Family liaison for the Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.

"It's important for the families to know that communities still care," she told The Sun after the ceremony. "It's important for communities to be able to remind others that the freedoms that we have are not free.

"Anytime I see our veterans, I look out, and it very well could be that several of those men could have served with my dad or in the same time. To see people honoring them and giving them recognition for their service that they have done and to be around people that have the same passion helps a lot."

Before speaking to the audience, Stonebraker leaned an enlarged photo of her and her father on horseback against the podium. That photo shows Kenneth Stonebraker not as an Air Force pilot at war but as a family man and a daddy.

"I never want my dad to be forgotten," she told The Sun. "I want to tell people about my dad to bring awareness to this issue and let them know this is still going on."

Stonebraker said relations between the U.S. and nations it was at war with – countries like North Korea, Vietnam and Laos – have improved, helping to bring the remains of U.S. service members home.

"The advancement in DNA has been huge (in the POW/MIA cause)," she said. "They've been able to make identifications from just minute pieces of bone. There is a big push right now to make sure that families of those that are missing from all conflicts submit DNA, because there are remains that they have that cannot be identified because of a lack of DNA sources from family members.

Stonebraker said families who may have someone who was a prisoner of war or is missing in combat action should go to dpaa.mil and seek our resources for more information.