Jaffrey American Legion hosts 24-hour vigil for POWs and MIAs

  • Mike Gallagher welcomes community members and veterans to the start of a 24-hour vigil at American Legion Post 11 in Jaffrey Saturday for American’s prisoners of war and those missing in action. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Tom Wiley leaves a wreath before the start of the vigil. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Ottoway Marshall of Rindge lays a wreath representing Vietnam soldiers. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Mark Vatcher lays the Korean War wreath. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Kevin Flanagan of New Ipswich kneels before the POW/MIA wreath. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Kevin Flanagan of New Ipswich prepares to lay the POW/MIA wreath. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Kevin Flanagan of New Ipswich prepares to lay the POW/MIA wreath. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Terri Ouelette, Charlie Arkwell and John Hook stand vigil. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/19/2022 10:29:57 AM
Modified: 9/19/2022 10:29:18 AM

Behind the American Legion Post 11 in Jaffrey, volunteers stood a 24-hour vigil over an empty table, symbolizing Americans who are missing in action or prisoners of war.

From 11 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday, the table was never unattended. Mike Gallagher, a Post 11 member, vice-commander of the Sons of the American Legion detachment for New Hampshire and chairman of this year’s state POW/MIA vigil, said that’s a responsibility everyone should feel.

“I really feel it’s part of the job of every citizen of the United States to make sure our missing and POWs come home. It’s very important to me and a lot of us – a lot of us have friends and family that didn’t make it home,” Gallagher said.

The vigil was held in honor of POW/MIA Recognition Day, which this year was Sept. 16. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which tracks unaccounted-for soldiers dating back to World War II, a total of 81,500 Americans remain missing. The vast majority of those are from World War II, and about half are presumed lost at sea.

Numbers are much smaller from more-recent conflicts, with five people considered missing in action in the Gulf War, and six from Iraq and Libya. But each one matters, Gallagher said.

Community members, many of whom were veterans, signed up to stand or sit for 15 minutes to stand guard over a POW/MIA table. More than a dozen people stayed at the American Legion hall overnight to take several shifts throughout the night and make sure the table was never unattended.

The table is set, but the chair is empty, and every object on the table is symbolic. The table is small, representing the frailty of a single prisoner. A single red rose represents the families keeping faith, and the red ribbons worn demand a proper account of the missing. On the plate, a lemon and salt represent the possible bitter fate of many of the missing, and the tears of their families. An inverted glass shows that the missing cannot toast, but a candle also presents the light of hope that they will return.

Tim Weston, the commander of Post 11, has been involved with the vigil for three years, and said for him, it’s a day to focus on those who are lost. It’s what he thinks about when standing his vigils, he said.

“I just think of the men and women missing or lost their lives for our country, and our freedom. And I thank them, every day,” Weston said.

Charlie Arkwell, state commander of the American Legion, previously chaired the event for the last several years, and said its main goal is to raise awareness in the wider community.

“The whole purpose of it is to make people aware there are still POW and MIAs that are not accounted for. We just want to keep that in the public’s mind,” Arkwell said. “Not just for the veterans, but for everybody in this country – they should be very grateful for the people that have stepped up and served, but should keep in mind also, the POWs and MIAs and their families, and what they’re going through not knowing where their loved ones are.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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