Town Square Transformed into Prison Camp in Recognition of MIAS and POWS With PM-POW-MIA, Bjt
WELLSBORO, Pa. (AP) _ A town square that looks like a page out of Norman Rockwell’s America became a jungle stockade on a day set aside to remember U.S. military personnel missing in action.
As veterans groups nationwide paused for POW-MIA Recognition Day, about 80 people gathered in Wellsboro on Friday to watch a reenactment of life in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp.
A guard marched five volunteer ″prisoners″ past gas street lamps toward a barbed wire-enclosed compound set up on the town green. One prisoner, Josh Randall of Erin, N.Y., climbed into a 4-foot-square bamboo cage while the guard jabbed a bayonet near his feet.
″Ask yourself, ’How would I feel if it was me? How would I feel if my country abandoned me after fighting for it?‴ said Fred Youmans, president of the North Central Pennsylvania Veterans Coalition, which organized the program in this small town near the New York state line.
Planners recognized the program could disturb former POWs and asked a therapist to be present.
″There had been some concern expressed at our meetings about whether this was too vivid, too touching,″ said veteran Dave Muffley of Tioga, Pa. ″We do have people on the scene who can deal with that should it occur.″
But therapist Donald Benelli, who counsels Vietnam-era veterans, said he believed the presentation would be beneficial.
″If it brings up the feelings and they talk about it, with a therapist or even with a significant other, that will in itself be part of the healing process,″ he said.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told veterans and MIA family members that the government will do its utmost to end uncertainty over the fate of their loved ones in Southeast Asia. There are now 2,273 listed as unaccounted for from Vietnam War.
Elsewhere, Norman Brookens, who endured five years of physical and mental brutality as a POW in Vietnam, spoke at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
Suggesting that Vietnamese officials are not sincere in their effort to help America find its missing servicemen, he said, ″I think it should be a long time before we start economic aid to them.″
Brookens, 65, of Fayetteville, Pa., was captured in 1967 while working in logistics for the State Department’s foreign service.