Glendale vets host ceremony honoring POW/MIA

Glendale vets host ceremony honoring POW/MIA
Pete Garon of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter No. 32 salutes at a remembrance for those who have gone missing in action or were taken as prisoners of war. Photo by Ken Maldonado
By Rebecca Henely

Pat Toro Jr., president of Chapter No. 32 of the Vietnam Veterans of America in Glendale, said he has been conducting the chapter’s annual POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony for 10 years, and every year it gets harder.

“That deep pain lasts as we seek an answer to the question, ‘Where are they?’” Toro said.

The chapter’s ceremony, which has been held at Memorial Square in Maspeth at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 69th Street in recent years, remembers those soldiers from the area who were taken prisoner or went missing in action in the Vietnam War.

On Friday evening, chapter members read the names of the 38 POW/MIA from the area, ringing a bell and lighting a small electric candle, which was placed on a display after each name. Members of the chapter and visitors also held flaming candles and flew tiny POW/MIA flags in remembrance of those lost and a table for one was laid out, with each object on the table symbolizing different feelings of the missing veterans’ loved ones, such as a red rose for frailty and faith, a white tablecloth for purity and salt for tears.

“Until they are all home, we continue to hold this ceremony and we continue to hope for peace,” Toro said.

Pete Garon, chairman of the honor guard for the chapter, said the ceremony can still have relevance for younger people.

“I think they should understand that things happen in war and people go missing,” Garon said. “And they should recognize the sacrifices our servicemen and women have had to make in order to protect this country.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) commended the chapter for the event.

“Veterans Day and Memorial Day are not the only days when we should remember our past and current veterans,” Addabbo said.

State Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) called the ceremony moving and dignified.

“I thought it was a true tribute to those who are no longer with us,” she said.

The chapter has held this ceremony for 20 years on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, the third Friday of September. While it is currently being held at Memorial Square, which was built for those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Toro said they hope to have a memorial built for Vietnam veterans in Elmhurst Park, and they will hold the ceremony there in the future.

Toro said the turnout this year — which was more than 40 people this year, including elected officials and other visitors — was good, especially considering the night coincided with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, but said the attendance doesn’t matter to the chapter.

“We don’t do this for the turnout,” Toro said. “We do this for us.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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