Three former Vietnam prisoners of war, all Clemson University graduates, gathered under a light rain on Veterans Day Friday with a crowd of fellow veterans, alumni, community members and current Clemson ROTC cadets to dedicate a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Chair of Honor in the east end of Memorial Stadium.
The Vietnam POWs in attendance were:
Air Force Col. William Austin ‘59, an F4 Phantom pilot who was shot down on his 81st mission and spent 1,986 days as a prisoner of war.
Navy Comdr. Robert Fant ‘60, an F4 Phantom pilot who was shot down on his 52nd mission and spent 1,694 days as a prisoner of war.
Air Force Maj. Samuel Vaughn ’67, an F4 Phantom pilot who was shot down on his 48th mission and spent 467 days as a prisoner of war.
The number on the POW/MIA Chair of Honor is 23 in honor of the known Clemson alumni who suffered as prisoners of war in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Austin, Fant and Vaughn are the last surviving members of that exclusive club.
Navy veteran Tony Wagner, Clemson University’s executive vice president for Finance and Operations, thanked the POWs and their families for attending.
“Since our University’s founding as a military college in 1889, support and appreciation for those who serve in defense of our country have been fundamental parts of Clemson’s character and culture,” he said. “That devotion is reflected in many of the most beautiful and special places on our campus. Today we add the POW/MIA Chair of Honor to that list. This empty chair will provide a constant reminder of those service members who have not returned home.”
More than 80,000 American service personnel are still listed as missing in action. Jennifer and Frank Blake, both 2000 Clemson graduates, funded the chair for those absent heroes. It will remain unoccupied in perpetuity to symbolize there will always be a place in the stadium awaiting their return.