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Veterans Group Sets Up Prison Camp on Town Square

September 20, 1991

WELLSBORO, Pa. (AP) _ Veterans set up a mock prisoner-of-war camp Friday to call attention to missing American servicemen, despite their own concerns the stockade was so real that former POWs could find it disturbing.

″We’re going to try to be real careful so we don’t psych someone out,″ said Fred Youmans, president of the North Central Pennsylvania Veterans Coalition.

″Our therapist is going to be one of the speakers. We’re putting him on first so he’s available if anyone has trouble.″

The camp, set up on the town green, included a prison yard, a guard tower and a 4-foot-square bamboo isolation cell. The compound is surrounded by barbed wire and a chain-link fence. Guards with a Viet Cong flag planned to march volunteer ″prisoners″ toward the camp late in the day.

″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,″ said Donald Benelli, the therapist.

Veterans groups nationwide and the National League of Families mark the third Friday in September as POW-MIA Recognition Day, on which they call for continued efforts to account for all servicemen missing or still being held prisoner.

Last year at the day of recognition, aerialist Angel Wallenda, who has lost a leg and portions of both lungs to cancer, returned to the high wire. The show, with her husband, Steve, a Vietnam veteran, attracted only about 200 people on a cold, dark day.

″We were discouraged, quite frankly, about the lack of concern or turnout to the event we hosted last year,″ said veteran Dave Muffley of Tioga.

This year’s ceremonies and prisoner parade are being held in the middle of town on a workday in an effort to draw a bigger crowd.

″There have been so many parades in the typical sense that they have sort of lost their impact,″ Muffley said.

The National League of Families estimates that 2,300 people who served in Southeast Asia are missing. Also, 8,100 from the Korean War and 30,000 from World War II are unaccounted for.

″We’re not doing this for the veterans,″ Youmans said. ″We’re doing it for the people who were never there. You don’t need to remind veterans that there were people left behind.″

In other observances:

-Norman Brookens, who endured five years of physical and mental brutality as a prisoner of war 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.

-Those who are pressuring the government to keep open the question of whether hundreds of American prisoners of war were left behind got a thank-you from the nephew of the president who first sent U.S. soldiers to Vietnam.

″Many people here have worked on this issue for years when others have tried to sweep it under the rug,″ Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., told a crowd of several hundred gathered at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. ″To them this nation owes a deep debt of thanks.″

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