Honoring true heroes

By on September 20, 2017

POW/MIA service held in Lititz Springs Park

The table was set with a pure white tablecloth.

There was just one chair. No one sat in the chair.

Slowly, the table was set with a black napkin. That, it was explained, was to represent the dark emptiness left by the absence of the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who never returned home to his or her family.

At Friday evening’s POW/MIA service in Lititz Springs Park, the most poignant moment of the ceremony was the setting of the table meant to honor the prisoners of war and missing comrades who were captured or never came home.

Set with symbols of deep significance, the table’s red rose was a reminder families and loved ones. A yellow candle with its yellow ribbon symbolized hope for a joyous reunion. Slices of lemon on the bread plate reminded of a bitter fate, while salt represented the families’ tears. The wine glass was turned upside down, for the missing would drink a toast or join in the festivities of the evening.

Combined with a display of names of Lancaster County’s prisoners of war and those missing in action, there were candles next to the framed images on the steps of the Lititz Springs Park gazebo. As the mournful tune of “Taps” echoed in the park, it was a tribute to the lost and to the families who never had closure.

“I lost a friend in Vietnam,” said Tom Bochenko, who served in the U.S. Air Force in Southeast Asia. “The POWs, the MIAs and those who made the greatest sacrifice of all, they were the true heroes. That’s why I am here tonight.”

There were about 100 people who attended the ceremony. Many were veterans, who had lost friends and family in war. Others were friends or family of those who had served, some of whom never returned. There were those who simply wanted to pay their respects to the POWs and MIAs and their loved ones. A few were too young to have known about World War II, the Korean War or Vietnam.

“The POWs and missing in action have been gone a long time now. They are out of sight and out of mind. I came here to honor and respect them and all the veterans who did their duty to our country,” said Boy Scout Aaron Hartman.

Hartman and other scouts were handing out POW/MIA flags and white candles that would be lit as the sun faded in the shadowy park.

“I think it’s an honor to be here tonight and honor those who have gone before,” said Dick Getz, who served in the U.S. Marines off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The guest speaker was Brigadier General David E. Wood, who serves as director of the Joint Staff for the Pennsylvania National Guard. Wood is a Manheim Township resident and 1981 graduate of Lancaster Catholic High School.

Wood was commissioned in 1987 through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Notre Dame. He served on active duty for over 11 years as an Army aviator with duty in Europe, Persian Gulf, Korea, and the United States. He has since served in the Pennsylvania National Guard in key command and staff assignments within the 28th Infantry Division, the 213th Regional Support Command, and the Pennsylvania Joint Forces Headquarters.

“It is an honor to be here with you tonight and to remember prisoners of war and missing in action,” said Wood. “We will always remember them.”

As Kathy McCullough, senior vice president for the VFW Auxiliary, noted, National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed annually on the third Friday in September, a tradition began in 1989 by presidential proclamation.

Over the years, an estimated 83,000 Americans have been missing in action, many buried in mass graves, many never recovered in bloody battles and many taken prisoner. Their families and friends have never known what happened to them.

On the same day, Sept.15, The POW/MIA Flag was flown at the Capitol, White House, Korean and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, the offices of the secretaries of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs, of the Selective Service System, and on the grounds or in the lobbies of every major military installation, every post office, and all VA Medical Centers and national cemeteries.

In Lititz, the gathering honored those who had been prisoners of war or missing in action, as candlelight glistened in the darkness.

They included Terry Lee Beck of Linesville who was in North Vietnam, John Gordon Boyanowski of Harrisburg who was in South Vietnam, Henry Gish of Lancaster who was in Laos, James Hunsicker of Denver who was in South Vietnam, Ernst Philip Kiefel Jr. of Harrisburg who was in Laos, John Henry Long of Media who was in North Vietnam, David Pannabecker of Womelsdorf, Edward Rykosky of Carlisle who was in South Vietnam, George Robert Weaver Jr. of Lancaster who was in South Vietnam and Edgar Weitkamp of York who was in Laos.

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