American POW in Afghanistan honored at event.
On Saturday, more than a hundred came to attend a first ever ceremony at the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Macon County.
The event was a standard function of the Rolling Thunder organization, which honors American prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Sixteen Rolling Thunder chapters from across the southeast came in support of the event, which was not only held to honor those held captive in past wars, but those soldiers who are still missing in action.
Neal Riendeau of Franklin, counted 51 bikes from seven states (Fla., Ga., Ala., Tenn., N.C., and S.C.) that made the ride into Franklin Veteran's Memorial on Saturday afternoon despite record high temperatures. “We had folks ride through downtown Franklin,” said Riendeau. “The ride was headed by our own former POW, Nat Henry.”
Georgia chapter president James “Buster” Hickam was among the members in attendance, who arrived in a motorcade from the American Legion parking lot to the shelter.
“What’s most important is that we educate the public that there are still POWs out there, still alive,” said Hickam. “A lot of the public is not aware and that’s why we are here today.” He pointed out that there were more than 6,000 Korean POWs, 1,000 from the Vietnam war, and most recently one in Afghanistan—Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who is the only known American POW. Three years ago on Saturday, June 30, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 26, of Hailey, Idaho was taken prisoner in Afghanistan.
Motorcyclists and visitors attending the ceremony wore black wristbands with Bergdahl's name and the date he went missing on them.
Currently, Bergdahl is the subject of a proposed prisoner swap in which the transfer of five Taliban prisoners would occur, who have long been held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba— a profligate action considered by some opponents of the current administration.
Chaplain Brenda Dubose read off a summary of events that led to Bergdahl’s capture. At the end of June of 2009, the young sergeant was taken prisoner while on a latrine break in Afghanistan. It is uncertain at this time whether he is being held in Afghanistan or neighboring Pakistan, but as Dubose pointed out, the Taliban captors have released videos of Bergdahl, proving his survival. “America needs to join in the Bergdahl’s quest to find their son and have him returned home,” said Chaplain Brenda Dubose.
Bergdahl joined the United States Army at the age of 21 as a Private First Class, and was assiged to a Combat Team in Paktika Province when he was captured by the Taliban. Saturday's event marked the three-year anniversary of Bergdahl's capture, meaning he has spent 1,095 days in captivity. So far, the Taliban has released five videos of Bergdahl, the last one being in May of 2011.
Not only was Bergdahl’s captivity a main point of the event, but honoring those who were missing from other wars and those who have returned was a part of the ceremony.
After honoring ex-Vietnam POW Nathan Henry, who was awarded with a plaque of the flag of Macon County, the Franklin American Legion Post 108 performed a Presentation of Colors, followed by a solemn Pledge of Allegiance and a POW Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem.
Local veterans then set the Missing Man Table for those missing in action, followed by a prisoner of war roll call. In memory of those missing or those previously captured in service of our country, dozens of yellow balloons with MIA soldier’s names on them were released into the sky.
Following the commemoration, Macon County Commissioners Ronnie Beale and Bobby Kuppers then came on behalf of the county to present Rolling Thunder and local POWs with awards for their commitment to the country and its soldiers.
“We do care here,” said Beale, pointing out a biker patch reading “I wasn’t there, but I do care.” Beale said it was his hope that the strong community support was indicative to of the county’s commitment to POW awareness. “We have a lot of veterans in Macon County. We appreciate you all coming here, we thank you for your service to our country.” Beale then presented the N.C. chapter of Rolling Thunder with an award recognizing the commitment to POWs and MIAs.
“We want to thank our local veterans for coming and supporting the event and for all they have done on behalf of the families in Macon County,” said Beale. “Even though it was a little warm, we had a great turnout and were able to put on a beautiful ceremony to honor Sergeant Bergdahl and remember our POWs.”
The entire event ended with the horde of veterans roaring their bikes for 21 seconds, before they rode off into the heat of summer.