Of war and remembrance 

Photo by Karen Zautyk/ ‘Prisoner’ Mike Foglio, a 1967-’70 Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, flanked by ‘guards’ (l.) Jerry Sparta, National Guard, 1964-’70, and Brian Henry, Army, ’75-’78 and Army Reserve, ’91-’03.


By Karen Zautyk

Last week, if you were passing American Legion Post 139 between Park and Webster Aves., you may have noticed an empty chair at a small table, complete with lace tablecloth and a rose in vase, occupying the front walkway.
It was a particularly touching part of the Barringer-Walker-Lopinto Post’s 10th anniversary POW/MIA Remembrance ceremonies.
For 24 hours, from 2 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday, on the deck outside the post building, members took shifts, acting as POWs and their guards.
And every hour on the hour, a prayer was said, and a description of what the table below represented was read.
It was set for one, “symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from our ranks.” The table “is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner,” alone against his or her captors.
The white tablecloth represented the purity of their intentions when they answered their country’s call to duty; the red rose, the blood they may have shed; an inverted glass, the fact they cannot toast with their comrades.
On a plate was a slice of lemon, to remind others of their bitter fate; salt, representing “the countless fallen tears“ of their families; and a candle, symbolic of the light of hope.
There was also, of course, an American flag, signifying the supreme sacrifice so many have made.
John Deveney, post historian and now its Commander, began the annual POW/MIA Remembrance ceremony a decade ago. He was inspired, he told The Observer, by the story of Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher, an American pilot who was shot down over Baghdad in 1991 during the first Iraq war.
Although he was declared Killed in Action, a subsequent investigation indicated that Speicher may have survived the crash and was being held prisoner. His status was officially changed to Missing in Action.
In 2009, the officer’s remains finally were found in the Iraqi desert, and evidence indicated he had, indeed, died in his plane. But the long search for the truth has made Speicher the symbol for the “No One Left Behind” precept by which members of the U.S. military abide.
And now, each year, in Lyndhurst, the AL does its best to bring that message, and the memories of the missing, to the community at large.
This year, 8th grade students from Jefferson and Washington school, took part in the opening ceremonies — a living history lesson for them.
From 2 p.m., through the night and until 2 the following afternoon, post members Mike Foglio, Tom Witt, Bill Bernard and John Vilchock, all of Lyndhurst, took 8-hour shifts as prisoners. Other veterans acted as guards.
They were also there to answer any questions passersby might have, and they were available to take phone calls about the Remembrance itself or to provide information about POWs’ living conditions.
In past years, the “prisoner” would be held in a bamboo cage, but Hurricane Irene, which significantly damaged the post HQ, prevented that this time. Army vet Brian Henry, one of the guards when we visited Saturday, said the water around the building was so deep after the storm that rowboats were traveling the streets, and when he waded through the waist-high flow, “carp were swimming past.”
But despite the flooding, from Irene and a week later from the tropical storm, there is no way the veterans would not have held their annual Remembrance.
It is all about patriotism and honor and duty. And those things should be cherished by all of us, civilians included.
Thank you, gentlemen of AL Post 139, for reminding us.

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