NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – One weekend each year, the Blackstone Valley Veterans Association honors a group of U.S. servicemen and women often forgotten – those who are prisoners of war or missing in action. Members held a vigil over the weekend that included white crosses set up on a hill across from the Northbridge Veterans Hall.
Each cross bears a name. One is for John Robert Henn Jr. of nearby Sutton. He was a warrant officer with the U.S. Army when he disappeared in South Vietnam on May 24, 1972. He is presumed dead, one of more than 1,600 Americans, 39 from Massachusetts, who remain unaccounted for in the Vietnam conflict.
The name Joseph E. Fitzgerald is also on one of the crosses, and he is the main reason the vigil started many years ago. A 1966 graduate of Northbridge High School, the staff sergeant in the U.S. Army was missing in Vietnam for more than 30 years.
He was presumed killed in an attack while on patrol on Memorial Day in 1967. His body was found in a shallow grave in 1997 and returned home.
“Since 1973, the remains of more than 900 Americans killed in Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors,’’ said William Audette, a Marine and Vietnam veteran.
Also honored are the 79,000 Americans unaccounted for in World War II, 7,500 missing in the Korean War, and six in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This has been a tradition for 30 years, and we’ll do it as long as we can,’’ said Audette.
In addition to the display of crosses, the vigil includes a prayer, recitation of the names of the Massachusetts POW/MIAs, the lighting of a candle for each of them, a 21-gun salute and "Taps." Participants included veterans and civilians, and the public is always welcome to attend and light a candle, Audette said.
The National Pow-Mia Recognition Day is held on the third Friday of September. Because of scheduling conflicts, the Blackstone Valley Veterans Association held its event a week early.