by Mike Blades
On September 27, 2003, my
wife and I attended the annual POW/MIA ceremony at our
local American Legion (Harold H. Bair, Post #14) in
Hanover, Pennsylvania. It was a poignant and solemn
ceremony, as it always has been in the past, however there
was something markedly different about this year's
This year, the Legion Hall
was void of almost anyone who did NOT have a part in
either planning the ceremony or who participated in the
ceremony. I don't have exact numbers...but I dare to
say that I could have counted them between both of my
hands...and maybe a toe or two. The warmth of those
who cared enough to attend fought against the chill of
forgetfulness the entire length of the ceremony.
Words spoken that day echoed louder than in the years
past. Those echoes cut deep and hurt more than
anyone could ever imagine.
The ceremony is not new to
the Veterans Organizations in the area and the effects of the lack of
attendance could be seen in the eyes of almost everyone
participating that day; and could be heard in the
frustrated voices of the Master and Mistress of
Ceremony...the Nehrs, as well as others.
Afterwards, my wife Stacy
approached Bev and told her of her idea for entering a
POW/MIA float in the Halloween Parade. Later that
evening we had some neighbors over to the house for a
barbeque. After the food was gone and the
plates were cleared, Stacy told the neighbors (Sean &
Becky Brown and Fred & Deb Raubenstein) of her idea.
Each agreed to offer whatever assistance they could and
the rest of the evening was spent making plans. I
proposed that we enter a POW cage in the parade...it was
unanimously approved! I was fortunate enough to have
met one man who I felt would, at the very least, help us
get or build a cage...and when I contacted Rick...he
readily agreed to help.
The parade was on October
30th and we wound up being just about in the middle of the
procession. Early estimates had put the number of
spectators expected in attendance around 40,000, although
I think there was actually less. My wife and
neighbor Becky lead our small crew carrying a 3' x 6'
black nylon banner. We had a white truck, with
20" POW/MIA magnet signs pulling Rick in the Cage.
My daughter, Brittany (age 7) and our neighbor, Kyle (age
6) walked along side the trailer holding signs telling the
spectators how many men remained unaccounted for from each
war since WWII. With the exception of me, everyone else
was in the back of the truck, waving flags and tossing
candy. I wore my BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform
(camo fatigues)), had my
wrists bound, and was tethered to the back of the trailer.
I must admit at this point, that I went into this thing
with high expectations...and they were all dashed about 5
minutes into the parade. I assumed that
adults would recognize what we were doing...or at least
what the cage was all about.
Since it was a Halloween
parade, our message was lost on just about everyone
sitting street-side...with the exception of a few people.
Many people laughed and made snide comments (young and
adult alike) and no one, save for one man, corrected their
children. The kids called out phrases like
"Your Bad" and asked why Rick was in
Jail...several took it upon themselves to throw candy back
at us. No one seemed to understand why we were there
and what we were trying to say. I suppose one could
say that it was a mistake to expect so much from a
Halloween parade...but what could be scarier than the
thought of an American, cold and lonely, in a land far
away...abandoned and forgotten by the very Government that
put him (or her) there! As a veteran, that scares me
a hell of a lot more than any costumed freak or cartoon
character that made their way down the road that night.
I can take comfort in the
fact that, no matter how frustrated, sad, and disappointed
I was, I know that we succeeded in making people aware.
Many people read the signs Brittany and Kyle were carrying
and I saw many, many jaws drop in disbelief that night.
As I lay in bed later that evening I cast the blame to the
school systems and to the Veterans Organizations for not
teaching our young people more about our POWs and MIAs and
not doing more about bringing them home. If our
Veterans Organizations would take a more proactive stance
on the issues...I might not be writing this and you
wouldn't be reading this on a website about POW/MIAs in
the year 2003. I can promise one thing...this
community has NOT seen the last of us, nor have
they seen the last of that cage either!!!
Anyway...we took some
pictures early on in the evening and I will put them up
for all to see just as soon as I can get them developed.
Most, if not all, are from when we were setting up...no
one remembered (myself included) to take pictures after
the parade started...so check back soon!
Before closing out, I
would like to thank everyone who had a hand in helping get
our message out to the general public.
||Rick Will (for the cage,
the consultation, and the many lessons),
||Randy and Beverly Nehr,
||Sean, Becky, Erin, and Ryan,
||Fred, Deb, Kyle, and Jarrod
||Mr. & Mrs. Gary Blouse
of Blouse Sign Co.,
||Off-duty Commander (wife)
Stacy and daughter Brittany,
||...and thanks to those in
the Community of Hanover, PA who do know and care
about our POWs and MIAs!
LEST WE FORGET