HOULTON, Maine — On a chilly fall day, the United Vets Motorcycle Club combined its annual POW/MIA and Gold Star Mother ceremonies at Monument Park in Houlton on Sunday.
Officially, the POW/MIA Recognition Day is Friday, Sept. 19 and the Gold Star Mother Recognition Day is Sept. 28.
Bob Wright, president of the United Vets Motorcycle Club, opened the ceremonies and Rev. Steve Straubel, the club chaplain, of Littleton Baptist Church offered up an opening prayer.
“Lord, we thank you, that only you can bind up the broken hearted, families who have been affected by their children who have become prisoners of war,” Straubel prayed. “We think of the prisoner, Lord, who is held captive on foreign soil today. Some names are known and some names are unknown where families are unaware of the status of their loved one. I pray that you take up that broken hearted and bring healing. Father, I pray for our nation and our leaders whose decisions affect the lives of many soldiers and those who serve in the military.”
Debbie Beers sang the National Anthem and Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of the song.
Master Sgt. Michael Wright, retired United States Air Force, addressed the audience on the history of the POW/MIA flag.
“In 1971, Mrs. Michael Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of Families, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs. She contacted Norman Rivkees, vice president of Annin & Company, whom she found very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue, and he, along with Annin’s advertising agency, designed a flag to represent our missing men. Following League approval, the flags were manufactured for distribution,” he recited.
“On March 9, 1989, an official League flag, which flew over the White House on 1988 National POW/MIA Recognition Day, was installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th Congress. It is the only flag ever displayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where it will stand as a powerful symbol of national commitment to America’s POW/MIAs.
The POW/MIA flag is “a symbol of our nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the nation,” Wright read.
“The importance of the League’s POW/MIA flag lies in its continued visibility, a constant reminder of the plight of America’s POW/MIAs. The POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, having been displayed in this place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982.
After another song by Beers, Rick Hannigan of the United Vets Motorcycle Club, read “The Final Inspection” a poem by Sgt. Joshua Helterbran.
Wright played a song by Kris Kristofferson called the “Eighth of November.” The song is about Nov. 8, 1965 when the 173rd Airborne Brigade on Operation Hump War Zone D in Vietnam was ambushed by over 1,200 V.C. Forty-eight American soldiers lost their lives that day. Severely wounded and risking his own life, Lawrence Joll, a medic, was the first living black man since the Spanish-American War to receive the United States Medal of Honor for saving so many lives in the midst of battle that day. Our friend, Nialls Harris, retired 25 years, United States Army, the guy who gave Big Kenny his top hat, was one of the wounded who lived. This song is his story. Caught in the action of ‘kill or be killed’ … “greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for a friend.”
Bob Wright added, “On behalf of the United Vets Motorcycle Club, would like to say thank you to all the veterans in attendance.”
The United Vets Motorcycle Club Vice President Rick Miller read the POW-MIA Pledge of Allegiance and Wright read the meaning behind the “Table of One,” which was set in front of the crowd.
As Miller and Steve Graham began making their way through the crowd with red roses to be given to Gold Star Mothers present, the sun peeked out as if covering the moment in approval. Slowly, one after the other, Josephine McGuire of Houlton, Lorna and Scott Harris of Patten and Jane and Tom Zimmerman of Smyrna each accepted the bittersweet symbol. As tears flowed, each of the mothers embraced, sharing unspeakable grief.
McGuire lost her son, PFC Harry J. McGuire III, 20, during the Vietnam War in 1967. He was killed in action against the Viet Cong in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Private McGuire, a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, was killed instantly by the explosion of a hand grenade during a close encounter with the enemy.
Harris’ son, Spc. Dustin Harris, 21, was killed while serving with the U.S. Army in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006. Spc. Harris died while on patrol in Bayji, Iraq as a result of injuries caused by an improvised explosive device. He was serving with the U.S. Army’s 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Zimmerman’s son, First Lt. James R. Zimmerman, 25, was killed in action by small arms fire during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2010. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Three different wars. Same heartache.
Also feeling that same anguish is Winfield Lowery, Sr., whose son, Sgt. First Class Jonathan Allen Lowery, 38, was killed while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2007. He died while on patrol in Mosul, Iraq when he was injured by small arms fire. He was serving with the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, III Corps based at Fort Hood, Texas.
Absent from the ceremony was Gold Star Mother Christine Henderson, whose son Sgt. First Class Aaron A. Henderson of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, was killed in 2012 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Henderson was a U.S. Army Ranger.
To conclude the ceremony, a new POW-MIA flag was raised in Monument Park and then the American Legion Color Guard fired a salute and “Taps” was played by bugler Butch Riley. Beers finished with the singing of “Amazing Grace.”
“I would like to thank everyone that has come today, for joining us in renewing our commitment to those who have served, are currently serving and the sacrifices of those at home will never be forgotten,” said Wright.
Lest we forget those who are still missing, let us remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country.