CARIBOU, Maine — Just before the gun salute that was part of the National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery on Friday afternoon, Vince Malena, a military veteran from Masardis, reached out to comfort George Berube Sr., a fellow veteran from Caribou.
The two sat side by side in their wheelchairs, Malena’s arm across Berube’s shoulders, Berube’s hand clutching Malena’s. Berube was a POW for two years during the Korean War.
Both flinched when the rifles began firing.
“We’ve been coming to this for years, and I know that he [Berube] doesn’t like the sound of the rifles,” Malena said Friday. “So we made a deal. I reach out and hold him when they fire, and he does the same for me. Because the truth is, I don’t like that sound, either.”
Such dedication to comrades filtered through the entire ceremony on Friday afternoon as the more than 50 people who attended the event vowed to never forget those soldiers who had been imprisoned during times of war or those who remain unaccounted for.
POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed across the nation on the third Friday of September. The Caribou ceremony featured remarks by Brig. Gen. Brent Boyles, assistant adjutant general for the Maine Army National Guard, as well as music, prayers and a wreath-laying ceremony. Attendees included members of the Caribou Fire Department, the Patriot Guard Riders, Loring Job Corps and representatives of Maine’s congressional delegation. Members of veterans groups also attended.
As of April 2009, there were 1,741 American personnel listed by the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Office as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
During the ceremony, representatives for U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Rep. Mike Michaud delivered remarks from each.
“Today, and every day, we keep each and every prisoner of war and missing service member close to our hearts and minds,” said Snowe in her statement. “They inspire us and remind us of our sacred obligation to account for all who are missing in action and our indisputable duty to bring them home — no matter how long it takes — no matter what it takes.”
Collins noted in her statement that “more than 140,000 Americans have suffered the hardships of captivity as prisoners of war” since World War I.
“We must never forget their courage, devotion to duty and sacrifice,” she added.
Michaud pointed out that citizens across the nation are able to enjoy freedom because of the sacrifices of men and women in uniform. Such individuals “represent the best of our country. We are humbled by their actions on behalf of us all.”
Boyles noted that 14 of the 1,741 people still missing from the Vietnam era were from Maine, and there are 38 service members from the state still missing from the Korean War. He praised the work of volunteers and cemetery officials who spent hours organizing Friday’s ceremony and who also keep the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery maintained throughout the year.
Before the ceremony ended, Boyles and Harry Hafford, chairman of the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery Corp., laid a wreath at the MIA remembrance monument.