Ceremony honors National POW/MIA Recognition Day

12 years ago
Aroostook Republican Photo/Lisa Wilcox
Northern Maine Veterans’ Cemetery Corporation Chairperson Harry C. Hafford and Cary Medical Center CEO Kris Doody observe a moment of silence after placing a wreath at the cemetery’s MIA memorial wall in a ceremony to honor National POW/MIA Memorial Day on Sept. 21.

By Lisa Wilcox
Staff Writer

CARIBOU — “You are not forgotten.”  That was the theme for the ceremony honoring National POW/MIA Recognition Day at the Veterans’ Cemetery in Caribou on Sept. 21. The day of remembrance is observed the third Friday in September each year.

Master of Ceremonies Dave Bell Sr. welcomed those who had gathered and introduced Chaplain David P. Cote, Colonel, USAF Retired., who delivered the invocation.  

Harry C. Hafford, chairperson of the Northern Maine Veterans’ Cemetery Corporation, was next to speak.   “Today we honor a solemn commitment to never forget the men and women who have served so courageously in the armed forces of our country and have yet to return home and whose whereabouts remain unknown,” Hafford proclaimed. He thanked the many individuals and corporations who provided donations to help put the ceremony together and offered a special welcome to former Korean War POW George Berube and his wife Florence of Caribou.

Hafford provided an update on the Walls of Honor project, advising that 275 tiles need to be purchased in order for the project to come to fruition and that 199 have been sold, leaving 76 sales needed.  He said the project was going well, though not as quickly as they would like. Hafford also made mention of the veterans’ artifacts cabinets that are now in place at the cemetery and ready for donations of articles to display.  

Sharon Campbell, regional representative for U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, then read a letter from Sen. Snowe.  Snowe thanked the many who have served and remain missing or were held prisoner, quoting Maine’s General and Governor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as once writing, “In great deeds, something abides.  On great fields, something stays.”

Snowe wrote, “As we stand here today, the beneficiaries of those great deeds, we vow to never falter in our vigilance and to keep the faith with those who so nobly kept the faith with us.”  

Campbell was followed by Phil Bosse, state office representative for U.S. Senator Susan Collins.  He read a letter from Collins, who wrote, “We set aside National POW/MIA Recognition Day to honor those who fought for freedom and who experienced the worst of war.  We honor the sacrifice of their families, who stand united for the loved ones who have yet to return and who speak with a powerful voice for those we cannot hear.  We join them in an unending commitment to fully account for every patriot who has answered the call to defend our nation.”  

Barbara Hayslett, district representative for U.S. Congressman Michael H. Michaud, also read a letter from Michaud. “I want every service member and veteran to know that your country is proud of you,” Michaud wrote.  “We appreciate your service and we will never forget.”

Keynote speaker Kris Doody, Cary Medical Center’s CEO, remarked how lucky local citizens are to live in a community such as Caribou that remembers to honor servicemen with ceremonies such as the one being held.  She also thanked all those who made the service possible.

Doody then shared the story of Lt. Col. Clarence F. Blanton of El Reno, Okla., a Vietnam veteran who went missing on a Loatian mountaintop in 1968 and whose remains were found and returned to his family just this year.      

Doody then reminded the crowd that U.S. Army Sgt. Bo Bergdahl of Idaho is a POW in Afghanistan and has been since June 30, 2009 when he was captured on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban have demanded $1 million and the release of 20 Afghani prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl’s release.  Doody asked those present to remember Bergdahl and keep him and his family in their prayers.

Doody then shared her experience of testifying at a Veterans’ Affairs hearing in Washington, DC, earlier in the month. She stated she was proud to learn that based on patient surveys, the veterans Cary serves have ranked the hospital as the best in patient satisfaction among the five major health-care facilities that participate in Project ARCH, or Access Received Closer to Home. ARCH is a pilot program that allows Maine veterans to receive care at Cary Medical Center instead of having to travel to Augusta  

She then shared the story of World War II POW Lou Fowler of South Carolina, who was able to escape his captors.  “Freedom is a little like air.  We don’t miss it until it’s not there,” Doody quoted Fowler.  “And then it takes a few seconds to realize that something critical is missing in your life.”

“Let us all take a deep breath of freedom today and give thanks to our many men and women — many who have made the ultimate sacrifice, many who are still unaccounted for — and proclaim with loud and never ending voices, ‘You are not forgotten,’” Doody concluded.  

Claudia Stevens, Sherry Sullivan and Elaine Moody then sang “In the Presence of the Lord” before Hafford and Doody placed a wreath at the cemetery’s MIA memorial. “Taps” played by bugler Fred Ormezanni, bringing many spectators and participants to tears, followed a 21-Gun Salute, provided by the Legion Riders of American Legion Post #147 in Madawaska.

Chaplain Cote closed the ceremony with a benediction, ending his prayer with “Let us never forget.”