Retired general tells veterans: ‘You’re not forgotten’
By RUSTY DENNEN
Before retired Army Maj. Gen. W. Montague Winfield’s remarks at Fredericksburg’s Veterans Day ceremony Monday, a black-and-white flag was hoisted to a spot just under the Stars and Stripes.
The smaller flag was a gift to the city from the Rolling Thunder veterans’ motorcycle group, honoring service members taken prisoner and missing in action.
The timing couldn’t have been better: Winfield is one of the nation’s point men in those two areas, serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs, and director of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
“From World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recently” in Iraq and Afghanistan, “our country makes a promise to each and every service member: You’re not forgotten,” he said. He noted that about 83,000 service members remain unaccounted for since World War II.
“Bringing home and providing answers to families is sometimes a slow and tedious process. We have families that have been waiting decades for answers, for resolution,” he said. “Our commitment to this mission will never falter.”
In the days and years to come, “some will lose their lives and some will fall into enemy hands, like Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, our only soldier still missing in Afghanistan,” Winfield said.
Bergdahl disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. He is believed to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban.
In August, President Obama called the sergeant’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, to tell them that every effort was being made to free their son.
“I’ve spoken to countless American officials who are dedicated to bringing Bowe home,” Winfield said.
Winfield was among several speakers attending the gathering at the Memorial to Our Fallen Heroes at the junction of Liberty, George and Barton streets.
The observance, in its fifth year, is sponsored by the Fredericksburg Area Veterans Council.
First District Rep. Rob Wittman exhorted the crowd of about 100 gathered at the memorial to continue supporting the military, and not to forget another group of veterans—those wounded in war.
Wittman noted that on Saturday, the Marine Corps celebrated its 237th birthday.
“They normally honor an individual. This time, they honored a wounded warrior.”
With the advancement of medical technology, troops who would have perished from wounds in previous wars “today are still with us, and that’s a blessing,” Wittman said.
That comes with “an obligation to them to make sure we continue to support them, and that they have what they need to have productive lives.”
Wittman mentioned that Marine Sgt. John Peck, who lost both arms and legs in Afghanistan in May 2010, received the keys to a new technology-packed home in Spotsylvania on Monday.
“Our challenge will be that, as conflicts wane, we never wane in our resolve to support our veterans.”
Among the veterans there was Neal D. King, 88, of Spotsylvania County, who served with the Marines in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, where he was shot in June 1968.
He smiled, “I only got whacked once. All my friends had Purple Hearts, and when I finally got hit, I thought, well, I can sit with them now.”
King said no one moment stands out in his 30-year career with the Marines.
“I was in with good organizations. It was a pleasure to be there with good people. I’m still a Marine. I’ll never be anything but a Marine.”
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
CITY EVENT FEATURES FLYOVER AND MUSIC
Among the events at Monday’s gathering in Fredericksburg:
A formation of four aircraft with the Experimental Aircraft Association flew over the memorial, and the Enduring Freedom Honor Team band from Fredericksburg Christian School played military tunes.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, veterans laid wreaths on the grass near.