National POW/MIA Recognition Day

Friday, September 16, 2016 started off overcast and cool at Santa Rosa Memorial Park but by the time the program had started at 10:00 am the clouds had parted and the sun was beginning to warm things up. Lance Ballenger, Commander American Legion Post 111, welcomed veterans, and guests alike including the mayors of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, and Windsor, along with our distinguished speakers. Lance also acted as our master of ceremonies for the days’ program. An honor guard posted our American and POW/MIA flags. Multiple veteran organizations posted their colors including American Legion (2 posts), VFW, Military Oder of the Purple Heart, Amvets, and 40&8.

Father Howell gave the invocation followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Father Howell was an assistance officer during Vietnam and had the honor receiving Vietnam POW’s as they returned from their captivity. He went with 20 of them as they returned home and assisted them with their integration back to society. He was able to relate that part of his duty was to help them with their press conferences and Q & A sessions. As it turned out his services were rarely needed. The POW’s had written and rehearsed their speeches during their captivity long before meeting Father Howell. Father Howell then did some scripture reading and the national anthem was sung by Miss Abby Volz of the Windsor Performing Arts Choir.

The distinguished speakers began with US Congressman Mike Thompson of the 5th District who is also a veteran of Vietnam. He spoke of personally going back to Vietnam to see the efforts in recovering the remains of our missing soldiers and has listened to the stories of people he knew that were POW’s. He concluded with “All POW’s are heroes”. Next up was California State Senator Mike McGuire of the 2nd District who reminded us that 83,000 are still missing from all wars and read a proclamation from the Governor of California on the value of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The last speaker was Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane of the 3rd District who talked about her father’s unit in WWII where half of them were killed in action. She then talked about the Palm’s Inn in Santa Rosa dealing with homelessness of veterans in Sonoma County. She singled out Kym Valadez of the local Veterans Administration and Catholic Charities for their efforts in making the Palm’s Inn a success. She concluded with the hope of housing 60 more veterans at the former Sutter Hospital site on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa.

One of our featured speakers was not able to be at the program due to being hospitalized earlier in the week from a fall. Darrel Shumard flew a P-47 in WWII. On his first mission to bomb a bridge over the Rhine River, he got hit in the left wing by 20-mm flak that blew open the gun bay. Despite the severe damage, Shumard opted to try to fly back to his base in Dijon, and made it on the proverbial “wing and a prayer”. On his 22nd mission, February 14, 1945 he collided in mid-air with “one of our own”. Both pilots bailed out. The other pilot landed in Allied territory but Shumard touched down on the German side of the Siegfried Line, where he was immediately captured eventually being taken to Stalag VIIA where he was held until liberation. After the war he continued to fly by volunteering for Angel Flights. Angel Flights is an organization dedicated to ensuring that needy veterans and families are not denied evacuation to distant medically needed assistance. A Sonoma County proclamation honoring his service and sacrifice was presented to his wife.

The next featured speakers were Jean Marie Heskett and her son Mike McCoy. Jean-Marie Faggiano was just a little girl 6 years old living with her family in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army began their occupation of the Philippines, and non-national civilians – mostly American and British business men and their families were forced into internment camps. Jean-Marie and her family, along with 3600 other civilians, were forced to surrender to the Japanese and live as civilian prisoners of war at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila from January 1942 until February 1945. Her son, Mike McCoy has written a book, “Through my Mothers Eyes” about her experience. He related that he had to return to college to learn how to write a professional book for publication. He then went on to relate that he once again had to return to school to learn how to write a screen play which is now down to a “final 50” to get made into a movie. He has high hopes that the screen play will be selected to be produced and have his mothers account made into a feature film.

Jean-Marie still remembers having her parents subjected to regular torture. On the positive side, by the time of her liberation at the age of 9 she was able to speak fluently 6 languages. She even was able to teach her Japanese captors English. She understands the value of freedom. Mike was able to relate that her liberation came just 24 hours before her entire camp was to be executed. It is no wonder that she is very thankful to the 1st Cavalry for her liberation. She repeatedly thanked them – at least 10 times she thanked them.

The program continued with Dave Richey, American Legion, explaining the symbols of the missing man table present for all to witness. That was followed by the Honor Guard rendering a 21 gun salute and the playing of Taps for our fallen and missing comrades. The Windsor Performing Arts Choice sang “Bring Him Home”, the colors were retired, and Father Howell closed the program with a benediction.

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