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04/22/13 — For those who served

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For those who served

By Kenneth Fine
Published in The Wall That Heals on April 22, 2013 2:26 PM

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News-Argus/MICHAEL BETTS

Former prisoner of war Hugh Howard is hugged by Gail Hargrove, the wife of a Marine who was killed during the Vietnam War, during a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony held Sunday afternoon at The Wall That Heals. Howard was imprisoned during World War II and Mrs. Hargrove's husband, Joseph's, remains have yet to be recovered.

"Things are kind of slow now, although it weren't so a few weeks ago. I have just got out of the bush after being there for 37 days. That sounds like a short time, but with Mr. Charles hot on your tail, it could be an eternity. ... When I arrived in Vietnam, I could hardly believe that there could be a war going on, but lately, I see why they say life in the Republic of Vietnam is hell."

*

Kirk Keller kneels down in front of one of the dozens of panels that make up the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

He spends several moments in quiet reflection -- a final tribute to the second cousin whose letters he, earlier that afternoon, read to those who turned out for The Wall That Heals' final day at Wayne Community College.

But the replica, and the memorial it was created to mirror, are not the only places loved ones can pay their respects to Marine Pvt. Gregory Hale Stancil.

The 19-year-old, who was cut down in January 1969 by a sniper's bullet, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

So Sunday afternoon was designated, instead, as a day to honor those who never came home -- to those POWs and MIAs whose family members still know little closure -- men like Marine Cpl. Joseph Hargrove, who went missing after he was flown onto Koh Tang Island to rescue the would-be rescuers of the S.S. Mayaguez.

*

A POW/MIA remembrance marked the end of The Wall That Heals' six-day stint in Goldsboro -- a stark reminder, those who organized the replica's visit said, of the continuing impact of the Vietnam War on thousands of Americans.

So when 4th Fighter Wing Operations Group Commander Col. Michael Koscheski vowed, on behalf of those still serving, to keep fighting for their return, it moved those still waiting to give their loved ones the dignified burial they deserve -- people like Hargrove's widow, Gail, who shared, just before the ceremony, a poem her husband wrote to her two weeks before he went missing.

"There are more than 83,000 Americans still missing in action from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War," Koscheski said. "While we're incredibly thankful that many have come home to their families, unfortunately, many remain unaccounted for. But although they are unaccounted for, they are definitely not forgotten.

"We're not resting. Rest assured, they will not rest until we have accounted for each and every one. The search for U.S. airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines continues every day and we will not lose hope. Our U.S. military has a proud heritage of never leaving anyone behind."

*

A group of veterans -- many of whom served in Vietnam -- broke down the replica and loaded it onto a truck early this morning.

Veterans and Patriots Coalition President Bill Graham was among them.

"It was a humbling experience," he said. "We were out there with heavy hearts."

Heavy because they were forced to, again, part with those comrades who fell -- the men they will forever call "brothers."

Humbled because they saw, firsthand, just how much their neighbors take pride in their service -- how a city and county rallied behind a group who never got the "Welcome home" they felt they deserved.

"I can't say enough about all the support -- all it took to get the wall here and make the programs such a success. It really has been an amazing week," Graham said. "But I will tell you that it truly is The Wall That Heals. It has touched the lives of many ... these last few days."

Western Sizzlin