LANSING | They weren't listed among those killed in war, but they never returned home either.
The military memorial located near Lansing Municipal Airport identifies two area residents — World War II combatant Lester Simkins and Harold J. Alwin, who fought in Vietnam — as prisoners of war still missing in action.
Robert Graham, a vice commander with the American Legion’s Cook County Council, said there are more than just those two people who fought for their country, and deserve not to be forgotten.
“We’re here to remember those people who went off to war and never came home,” Graham said. He cited a figure of more than 633,000 military personnel who were taken prisoner and wound up missing during conflicts dating back to the American Revolution.
Graham was among those who coordinated a gathering of about 30 people Saturday night at the Lansing Veterans Memorial.
In the shadow of a Huey helicopter, veterans of Vietnam and more recent military conflicts in the Middle East gathered to conduct a “night-watch” of sorts to remember those who never came back.
“This is a time for us to reflect on what we went through and remember those who were less fortunate,” Graham said. “Part of it is going to be a bunch of old guys telling war stories, but this is meant to be a serious tribute.”
This year’s memorial service is the 13th annual event, although veterans coordinator Rich Dominiak said veterans from around the south suburbs have gathered at the Lansing location off-and-on since 1992 to hold similar tributes.
In past years, events lasted through the night, beginning at 6 p.m. on the first Saturday of September and extending to sunrise on Sunday. This year’s event was a little shorter — it was to wrap up around 1 a.m.
“We’re getting old, it’s tough for us to stay up all night,” Graham said, while adding that the event may be extended until 6 a.m. Sunday in future years.
“It’s being considered,” he said.
Food and refreshments were sold at the event, along with T-shirts, caps and flags bearing the black-and-white POW/MIA logo. Dominiak said proceeds from the sales would help pay for an honor guard that performed a brief ceremony at the beginning of the event. The items were provided by The Shed, an East Side-based neighborhood tavern, 3707 E. 106th St., that caters to a veterans, Dominiak said.