Miss­ing La Plata sol­dier hon­ored at cer­e­mony

Fran­cis DeSales Wills went MIA in Viet­nam in 1966

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com

Just over 50 years ago, Army Pfc. Fran­cis DeSales Wills was de­clared miss­ing in ac­tion in Viet­nam. On Satur­day, sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of Wills’ fam­ily joined mil­i­tary vet­er­ans to honor his mem­ory, and the mem­o­ries of all ser­vice­men and women miss­ing in ac­tion, at a cer­e­mony at the Amer­i­can Le­gion Ran­dolph Furey Post 170 in In­dian Head.

The cer­e­mony cul­mi­nated in the rais­ing of the POW/MIA flag at the post.

The color guard from the Air Force JROTC

pro­gram at Henry E. Lackey High School in In­dian Head opened the cer­e­mony. Fol­low­ing an open­ing prayer by the post’s chap­lain, Doris Ma­son, Ad­ju­tant Billy Hill ded­i­cated a ta­ble on which was set items sym­bol­iz­ing the plight of miss­ing sol­diers.

“Those who have served and those cur­rently serv­ing in the uni­formed ser­vices of the United States are for­ever mind­ful that the sweet­ness of en­dur­ing peace al­ways has been tainted by the bit­ter­ness of per­sonal sac­ri­fice,” Hill said. “Let us re­mem­ber and never for­get their sac­ri­fice.”

Fol­low­ing a read­ing of res­o­lu­tions and ci­ta­tions pre­sented by the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly, and the U.S. Congress, Brie O’Neal, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Le­gion Auxiliary 259 in Clin­ton, spoke about her ef­forts to com­mem­o­rate Mary­land’s miss­ing sol­diers.

“It is im­por­tant now more than ever for the Amer­i­can Le­gion fam­ily, es­pe­cially in the South­ern Mary­land re­gion, to be gate­keep­ers for the miss­ing in ac­tion,” she said. “Aware­ness mat­ters. There’s work to be done.”

O’Neal noted that 23 sol­diers from Mary­land are still un­ac­counted for and listed as miss­ing in ac­tion from all wars. Forty-five sol­diers from Vir­ginia and eight from Washington, D.C., are like­wise un­ac­counted for.

More than 1,600 peo­ple are listed as miss­ing in ac­tion from the Viet­nam war, 31 of whom are civil­ians.

O’Neal dis­cussed some of the re­cent suc­cesses of the mil­i­tary’s De­fense POW/MIA Ac­count­ing Agency in iden­ti­fy­ing and repa­tri­at­ing the re­mains of ser­vice mem­bers in Laos. She also en­cour­aged the Mary­land House of Del­e­gates to pass House Bill 664, which would re­quire state build­ings to fly the POW/MIA flag when­ever the U.S. flag is flown.

O’Neal said that Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) has ex­pressed his sup­port for the bill.

La Plata Mayor Jean­nine James said that be­ing from a mil­i­tary fam­ily in which all her rel­a­tives came home from their ser­vice, she can only be­gin to guess what the Wills’ ex­pe­ri­ence has been for the past 50 years.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to speak about one of our sol­diers who hasn’t come home,” she said. “Let’s keep the search go­ing un­til he’s home.”

Charles County NAACP pres­i­dent Jan­ice Wilson ex­pressed her grat­i­tude for every­one who has served their coun­try in uni­form and of­fered her sym­pa­thy to the Wills fam­ily on be­half of the NAACP.

“We are with you, we want to stay con­nected with you, and we ap­plaud your strength in go­ing on in the face of not know­ing,” Wilson said.

“It’s tor­tur­ous to not know. The Wills fam­ily does not have clo­sure,” she said.

Wanda Wills Wood­land, a vice pres­i­dent of the Charles County NAACP chap­ter and a niece of Wills, re­counted how he had helped his mother raise his five sib­lings.

“Sales was a man at a very young age,” she said.

Wills was the first pres­i­dent of the youth chap­ter of the Charles County NAACP and par­tic­i­pated in lo­cal sit-ins. When he did, Wood­land re­called, his mother would take his shift as a dish­washer at a lo­cal restau­rant be­cause the fam­ily needed his wages.

“Sales be­lieved in equal­ity,” Wood­land said. “He worked for equal­ity.”

“Sales was not drafted,” Wood­land said. “He signed up. He served his coun­try. He be­lieved that it was the best way to, and I hate to say it this way, make Amer­ica great.”

“We still to this day be­lieve that our un­cle will, in some form or fash­ion, re­turn to us.”

Wills’ daugh­ter Jo­ce­lyn and first­born son Fran­cis DeSales Clark also spoke at the event, and Wills’ sis­ters, neph­ews and nieces, cousins, and grand-nephew were also in at­ten­dance.

Paul Melvin Wills, Wills’ younger brother, sang a song in his mem­ory. He re­called how he couldn’t wait to tell his older brother that he had suc­cess­fully auditioned as a drum­mer for a band.

“But he never came back, so I could never show him what I could do,” re­called Wills.

Fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of a res­o­lu­tion in Wills’ honor by Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D), the cer­e­mony moved out­side to raise the POW/MIA flag on the post’s flag­pole. The flag will be flown there un­til all the na­tion’s miss­ing and cap­tured ser­vice per­son­nel have been ac­counted for.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY PAUL LAGASSE

At­ten­dance was high for the POW/MIA recog­ni­tion cer­e­mony at the Amer­i­can Le­gion Ran­dolph Furey Post 170 in In­dian Head on Satur­day.

The POW/MIA recog­ni­tion cer­e­mony at the Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 170 in In­dian Head was in honor of Pfc. Fran­cis DeSales Wills, a La Plata res­i­dent and civil rights ac­tivist who was de­clared miss­ing in ac­tion in Viet­nam in Fe­bru­ary 1966.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY PAUL LAGASSE

Above left, the color guard from the Air Force JROTC pro­gram at Henry E. Lackey High School in In­dian Head opened Satur­day’s POW/MIA recog­ni­tion cer­e­mony. Above cen­ter, vet­er­ans salute as the POW/ MIA flag is raised at the con­clu­sion of Satur­day’s POW/MIA recog­ni­tion cer­e­mony at the Amer­i­can Le­gion Ran­dolph Furey Post 170 in In­dian Head. Above right, Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton, cen­ter, joined Fran­cis DeSales Wills’ ne­ice Wanda Wills Wood­land, left, and his nephew Matt Nolan Wills fol­low­ing the flag-rais­ing cer­e­mony.

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