A somber, respectful ceremony took place Friday in Diamond Park as veterans, community members and guests came together to begin the 27th Annual 24 Hour POW/MIA Vigil commemorating National POW/MIA Day.
Among the honored guests was Harold Beerbower of Meadville, who spent 28 months as a prisoner of war during the Korean War.
When Phil Davis, a veteran of the Vietnam War, introduced Beerbower, he said, “He is one of the reasons we do this year after year.”
Beerbower quit school to join the Army in 1951. By April he was on the frontlines as a member of D company 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. On April 25, 1951, he was captured.
“I wouldn’t go through it again,” Beerbower said.
Harold Andrews, a Crawford County native, was interred in the same prison with Beerbower. The pair were held captive until August 1953. Both usually attend the event, but Andrews had a family commitment this year.
Beerbower continues to attend this event every year because “I hope we get our MIAs back.”
Keynote speaker Nikki Mendicino, a POW/MIA advocate from near Pittsburgh, kept her remarks brief.
“This weekend we come together to remember and honor all those heroes who didn’t come home,” Mendicino said.
Mendicino called for elected officials to make a fuller accounting of POW/MIAs from all wars.
“There are five reasons we live in a free country — the Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Navy,” Mendicino said as she closed out her speech.
After Veterans of Vietnam War Post 52 conducted a missing man ceremony, which entails symbolism for POW/MIAs, 94 names were read of Pennsylvanians still unaccounted for in South East Asia. The list includes three Crawford countians — Edward James Broms, Gary Alan Harned and Terry Lee Beck.
While the names were being read, members of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 205 of Saegertown lit candles on the Crawford County Veterans Memorial near the county courthouse for each POW/MIA. Five candles were lit for World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the War on Terror. The candles remain lit until today at 6 p.m. — 24 hours after the start of Friday’s 6 p.m. vigil.
Alvin Zatezalo of Andover, Ohio, served in the Navy from 1968 to 1972, including tours in Vietnam. He attends the event annually because “We’re here and they aren’t. We need a full accounting,” Zatezalo said.
Meadville’s Brian Sparks never served in the military, but both of his uncles served during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Sparks has the utmost respect for the military and makes the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., often for Rolling Thunder, an annual veterans motorcycle ride over Memorial Day weekend.
“I’m proud of people who serve,” Sparks said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them.”
Meadville natives and current Stoneboro residents Alan and Anissa Claypoole said they attend the event every year. Alan is a Desert Storm-era Marine Corps veteran, and Anissa is the daughter of Davis.
For Alan his motivation for coming to the event is to draw attention to the POW/MIA issue.
“People forget and don’t realize the extent of how many are still missing,” Alan said.
Cheryl Hatch, an Allegheny College journalism professor, said she was an Army brat who is the daughter of an Army solider. She also served as an imbedded journalist in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s important to remember those easily forgotten,” Hatch said.
After the names were all read, Veterans of Vietnam War Post 52 member Jerry Coward closed the ceremony, saying, “You’ve heard the names read, you’ve heard us talk of others. Keep them in your heart,” Coward said.
You can go
The 17th Annual Ride for Freedom takes off today at 3 p.m. from Walt’s Tavern in Conneaut Lake and ends at Diamond Park. Registration begins at noon. A remembrance ceremony follows around 4 p.m. at Diamond Park.
Earl Corp can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.