A long line of motorcycles processed slowly through the Texas State Cemetery. Their arrival opened the ceremony on September 26 to memorialize 105 Texas Vietnam veterans listed as Missing in Action. Organized by VVA’s Austin Chapter 915 for the eighth consecutive year, and supported by the Texas Association of Vietnam Veterans (TAVV) and the local VFW post, the recognition ceremony hosted more than a hundred dignitaries, VSOs, and Vietnam veterans. Those who rode in the procession were part of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, In-Country Veterans MC, Veterans of Foreign Wars Riders, and Patriot Guard Riders.
Master of Ceremonies John Miterko of Chapter 915 began the ceremony with a formal introduction and nod to special guests, including the Superintendent of the Texas State Cemetery, Harry Bradley, and State Sen. Donna Campbell, Chair of the House Defense and Veterans Affairs Committees. Then there was a presentation of colors by Chapter 915 and TAVV members led by Vietnam veteran Freddie Garcia, with music played by the Austin Police Pipe & Drum Corps. Chapter 915 Vice President Charlie Grant led the Pledge of Allegiance and Chapter 915 Chaplain Larry Yager provided the opening prayer.
The POW/MIA table ceremony, conducted by Chapter President Roy McCrary, recognized those missing from each of the services. The ceremony has many symbolic components, principally a white-clothed table representing purity set with empty, overturned toasting glasses and surrounded by empty chairs. “There are also lemon slices, reminding us of the bitter fate of these men, and salt symbolizing the tears of our families and those still missing, ” Miterko said. Other components include a yellow ribbon, lighted candle, and a Bible. Chaplain Yager closed the table ceremony with a prayer for the thirty-five members of Chapter 915 and TAVV who had recently died.
The TAVV Fire Base Team presented a folded memorial U.S. flag to Belinda Rogers, widow of Vietnam-era veteran William Nelson Rogers, who died in August.
A performance by the HeyLusKa War Dance Society followed, led by Jim Cook, a Vietnam veteran. The song and dance, dedicated to all Vietnam veterans, included a blessing for the Texas MIAs, their families, and those who participated in the recognition ceremony. An eagle feather fanned smoke into the sky to carry the blessing to the Grandfather Spirit.
Afterward was a reading of the names of the Texas MIAs. A ship’s bell tolled before a member of each service branch began reading. Veterans in the motorcycle units answered for each of the MIAs as their names were read. “Although our brothers-in-arms are not with us physically, a brother warrior answers for them today, ” Miterko said. “Today their spirit and memory are with us. As long as our generation of warriors remains alive, our missing brothers will remain alive in our hearts.”
The ceremony ended with a second performance by the TAVV Fire Base team and the playing of “Taps, ” along with a 21-gun salute by VVA’s Chapter 863 Honor Guard. The Austin Police Pipe & Drum Corps played “Amazing Grace” and a series of instrumentals.
Wreaths were laid by several VSOs and Sons and Daughters in Touch, as well as by Sen. Campbell and veterans’ family members. A reception followed at the Gallery Room of the Texas State Cemetery.
“The Superintendent, a Vietnam vet, came up to me after the ceremony and said that the fourth Saturday of every September is reserved for this ceremony, ” Miterko said. “So we plan to do it for as long as we can.”
By Jake Schuessler