By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY — More than 31 million soldiers, sailors and airmen went off to war during World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War combined — but 83,000 of them did not come home, either because they were missing in action or became prisoners of war.
To honor those 83,000 missing soldiers, sailors and airmen, the POW/MIA Chair of Honor was dedicated at the township’s annual Veterans Day ceremony at Montgomery Veterans Park last week. It will be on display in several of the Montgomery Township public schools.
To acknowledge Veterans Day, Deputy Mayor Ed Trzaska presented a proclamation from Township Committee. The ceremony is a reminder “of our gift of freedom and of those who gave all to make sure future generations continue to know life in a free, democratic society,” he said.
“Those that are gone created a clear pathway for us to continue on (and) we must never waiver from that path of freedom and democracy,” Mr. Trzaska said. “To our veterans — past, present and future — may God bless you for your service and sacrifice.”
Guest speaker Christopher Jaeger, who enlisted in the U.S. Army and now belongs to the New Jersey Army National Guard, called on the attendees to stop and think about the men and women who are serving in the military to make the United States as great a country as it is. Mr. Jaeger is a Montgomery Township police officer.
Then, Tom D’Alessio, the vice president of Rolling Thunder, Inc., and Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire lifted the black cloth that covered the POW/MIA Chair of Honor at Montgomery Veterans Park. Rolling Thunder is a nationwide non-profit group that helps veterans and active duty military personnel. It grew out of efforts to remind people about the missing soldiers.
In his remarks, Mr. Caliguire reminded the attendees that when there is a war, it is unlikely that every soldier, sailor or airman will come home. The families are left with a hole in their hearts, he said.
There were 73,515 military personnel who did not come home after the end of World War II, and there were 7,841 more who did not return after the Korean War, he said. There are still 1,618 military members who have not been accounted for at the end of the Vietnam War.
With that in mind, Mr. Caliguire said, the mission of Rolling Thunder is to ensure that Americans do not forget the sacrifices of those service members who are missing and that they will be accounted for. A similar Chair of Honor is in the lobby of the Somerset County administration building as a constant reminder, he said.
Elaine Martin, Rolling Thunder, Inc.’s national secretary, walked the attendees through the Missing Man Ceremony — a round table, set for one. The lone seat symbolizes the isolated prisoner. It is set with a white tablecloth as a symbol of the missing man’s purity of motive to serve his country.
The red rose in a vase recalls the life of each missing soldier, while the ribbon-bedecked vase speaks to the continued determination to find the missing service member, Ms. Martin said. The lemon is symbolic of the bitter fate of the prisoner of war, while the salt is for the tears of the families that wait for their soldier’s return.
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli said there is a tendency to forget about the veterans and that sometimes, people need to be reminded of their sacrifices. That’s the purpose of Veterans Day — to honor all military veterans, he said.
“Thank you, veterans, for your model citizenship,” Mr. Ciattarelli said.
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer