The following article appeared in our local paper, by Linda May for “The Macomb Daily” this morning:
A 24-hour vigil takes place at Resurrection Cemetery, 18201 Clinton River Road, Clinton Township, Sept. 15-16 to mark National POW/MIA Recognition Day for the 83,000 American service members who remain missing in action from wars just since World War II. The vigil highlights veterans’ urging the U.S. government to keep up the effort to find as many as possible. Two of the speakers at the opening ceremony at 6 p.m Sept. 15 are Vietnam veteran John Podlaski of Sterling Heights and World War II veteran Alfred Murphy, a Macomb County American House resident. They are with Steve Bago, Lenox Township, president of Chapter 154 Vietnam Veterans of America, that conducts the vigil. Photo submitted by Steve Bago.
“The vigil” is what the local Vietnam vets call it. It has happened annually for 31 years, coinciding with this month’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day. It’s when an honor guard stands a 24-hour silent vigil -– no matter what the weather -– for 1,603 men whose remains (the Department of Defense says) still haven’t been repatriated from the Vietnam War, 49 of them from Michigan. One, Jeremy M. Jarvis, had Warren-Fraser connections. The vigil highlights the point that 83,000 military service personnel were never accounted for — from World War II forward.It’s meant to impress upon elected officials in the government of the United States that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency should be kept funded, and keep looking for the remains of as many of our military people as its investigators can find.
Mostly, it’s about the ethic that says leave no one behind.
For years, the honor guard of Chapter 154 of Vietnam Veterans of America went to the Michigan Remembers monument to honor Michigan’s missing in action at a Novi cemetery. Three years ago, Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township built a POW/MIA memorial to those who were prisoners of war and to the missing in action, and so the vigil by Chapter 154 continued there.The chapter honor guard, The Point Team, posts colors (flags) at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15 at the POW/MIA memorial near the American Veterans Memorial. Opening ceremonies are at 6 p.m. and the vigil ends at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16. The gates of the cemetery at 18201 Clinton River Road are open all night for this occasion so people can pay their respects around the clock.Guest speakers at the opening include World War II veteran Alfred Murphy, and author John Podlaski.
“Al Murphy is a resident of American House. He’s 95,” VVA chapter president Steve Bago said. “He was born in Dublin, Ireland and served on a WWII Army-Air Force Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress heavy bomber.”
Murphy, a retired firefighter, emigrated to America where he sold newspapers on a street corner for pennies during the Great Depression. As a teenager, he worked at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, and later joined the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force.
He trained as a pilot cadet, mechanic, radioman and aerial gunner. His squadron arrived overseas in July 1944 as a part of the 8th Air Force, 91st Bomb Group, 322nd Bomb Squadron, in the same unit as the famed B-17, Memphis Belle.
His crew completed 35 flight missions during its campaign, where he served as a radioman for the B-17 called Big Gas Bird. His awards include seven Air Medals, eight Battle Stars and a WWII Victory Medal. Seventy years after the war, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Podlaski served in Vietnam from 1970-71 as an Army infantry soldier with the 1/27th Wolfhounds in the 25th Division and the 1/501st Geronimo of the 101st Airborne Division. He has a degree in business administration and worked in the automotive industry.
He has been with Chapter 154 since 1984 and served on the honor guard, once laying wreaths at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C.
His fictional novel about his tour of duty “Cherries,” is about a scared young soldier arriving in Vietnam who grew into a leader within a year. His latest book, “When Can I Stop Running?” describes the frightening events of a single night in a two-man listening post in the jungle.
“We believe it’s important to have a full accounting of all the missing,” Bago said. “The saying goes: no man is dead until he is forgotten. We see this as our moral obligation to keep reading the names of those who were never brought home to their families. Personally, I feel guilty. I came home from the war, married my girlfriend and had children and then grandchildren. These guys didn’t get those opportunities.
“Whether you were drafted or you joined the service, it’s very noble to serve your country. Most of us didn’t know anything about Vietnam, but our country said go and fight. So we did. Many guys didn’t come home.
“How could we not want to be part of that effort to stand there for a little while and bring that to everyone’s attention? It’s such a small price to pay compared to what they did and how they died. We get to celebrate their lives, however short they were.
“The names of 149 from Macomb County who died in the war are on a memorial we built at Freedom Hill County Park. Every one of them had mothers and fathers and grandparents. They had brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, friends, schoolmates, coworkers. It’s important we don’t forget,” he said.
The chapter runs the Veterans Support Center at 18025 15 Mile Road, Clinton Township.
“Nobody should be left behind. That’s why we have this Vet Center. It doesn’t matter what your age, you are our brother or sister, and if you need to file a claim for benefits, you can come in here. We fought to get the millage passed so they could hire county service officers who are here.
“We’ve all seen that picture of the soldier carrying an injured or dead soldier. We have to live up to that by taking care of veterans, the 90-year-olds, the 70-year-olds, and the 25-year-olds, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, reserves, national guard, doesn’t matter.
“We dig in every day. If someone needs food, if they were in combat and they need to come in here and talk with a group, there’s a group that meets on Tuesday morning. They beat the hell out of our coffee pot, but they all walk away feeling better. If younger vets want to join, we welcome them. In fact, we’d like to find a group of younger vets to hand this place over to eventually,” Bago said.
A crew of Chapter 154 members will be out on Gratiot Avenue and M-59 at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 15 with POW/MIA flags and information on the vigil and the reason it is held.
“It’s good that we see the black and white POW/MIA flags flying on buildings and that police cars have the stickers on their windows. We still have people missing and we want to keep their cause alive,” Bago said.
“The government shifts the focus from finding the missing from Southeast Asia, to Korea, to World War II. We know we are never going to see a full accounting, but we have to keep biting at their heels to get as close as we can. We have to keep the fire in our gut and explain to our grandkids the importance of this,” he said.
If you are local and have the opportunity, it would be great way to finally meet some of my Facebook friends. I’ll buy the coffee and donuts.
This is the direct link for the article: http://www.macombdaily.com/opinion/20170908/24-hour-vigil-for-those-who-have-not-returned-from-vietnam-war-sept-15
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I’m a Vietnam veteran and really enjoy reading your article .