Cabela’s in Hamburg hosted a dedication ceremony for a POW/MIA Chair of Honor which was unveiled in the store on Nov. 3.
“May this unoccupied chair standing in silent repose serve as a lasting tribute to all POWs and a constant reminder of those still MIA, that a final accounting is yet and must be made,” said former POW David Mills. “On behalf of my POW brethren here today, and all POWs everywhere, we thank all who fought, all who pray and all who kept the home lights burning for our freedom.”
Mills was a Chinese Prisoner of War for four months in 1952. He said many POWs at that time died during transportation to prisoner of war camps.
“Most of us who were POWs in Korea believe that they are lost through traveling through treacherous winter conditions, frozen to death on the roads, executed on the highways with their hands tied behind their backs. Never a chance to again see their loved ones. Never again to see this beautiful country,” said Mills, getting emotional, listing the numbers of POWs and MIAs in each war since the Revolutionary War.
The morning program honoring all veterans and POW/MIAs included music by Hamburg High School’s Ariel Boundaries select choir. Selections included “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” which is a love song made popular during WWII, “The National Anthem,” “Amazing Grace” and a “Salute to the Armed Forces.”
Patriot Guard Riders lined up holding flags during the ceremony. Members of local VFWs were sitting in the audience, as well as area veterans and military family members. State Police Color Guard and the Marine Corp. Color Guard gave the Presentation of Colors. Chaplain Terry Marsh of VFW Wagner-Good Post 216 Hamburg gave the benediction.
Ron Leh, Retail Marketing Manager of Cabela’s Hamburg, started putting this program together after Eric Williams, Retail Marketing Manager, dedicated a POW/MIA Chair of Honor at the Cabela’s Christiana store. Cabela’s hopes to dedicate a chair at every Cabela’s store across the country.
“92,000. That is the number of POW/MIAs unaccounted for to this day,” said Leh.
Cabela’s General Manager Ed Bartolotta said Cabela’s is honored and humbled to dedicate this Chair of Honor.
“Our hearts go out to all who served... we love our veterans,” said Bartolotta.
Those in attendance included Berks County Commission Christian Leinbach, Sen. Judy Schwank, Rep. David Maloney, Rep. Mark Gillen, a representative for Sen. Pat Toomey, as well as former POWs Bill Fili and David Mills.
“These are stories that need to be told,” said Gillen, happy to also see children in attendance to hear the stories. He also brought his young daughter up to the podium with him. “Thank you to all who have served... Remember those who have served. Remember. Remember. Remember.”
“What you have done to provide for our country, for our safety, I just can’t thank you enough for that,” said Schwank. “I thank you and appreciate all that you have done.”
“Thank you for the veterans and thank you for the support that is being showed here... We really can’t say enough ‘thank yous,’” said Maloney, sharing a personal story about his uncle being listed as MIA. “Thank you for recognizing these men and women who need to be honored.”
“Thank you for your service,” said Major General (retired) Eric Weller, the Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs, to the veterans and military families gathered. “How do we thank people who have sacrificed so much? It’s simple. We remember them... Please, never forget.”
Air Force MIAs from Berks County were recognized: Captain David Pannabecker of Womelsdorf, missing since March 1972; Colonel Thomas Dugan of Reading, missing since December 1968; and Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Angstadt of Oley, missing since October 1966.
Family members of the local MIAs were in attendance, Jan Angstadt Slauser of Lower Alsace Twp., Kathleen Dugan of Harrisburg and her sister Nadine Dugan-Venzke of Exeter.
“It was amazing,” said Slauser about the dedication ceremony. “They’re not forgotten.”
“I’m very emotionally drained,” said Dugan-Venske. “The story about the POW was very touching,” referring to Mills’ speech.
“I thought it was amazing. I think we all did. Amazing and impressive,” said Dugan about the ceremony. “It proves that people are not forgetting and that’s important.”
Leinbach said the Chair of Honor for POWs and MIAs represents 72,000 WWII POW/MIAs, 7,700 Korean POW/MIAs, 1,600 Vietnam, 126 the Cold War.
“But it means even more than that. For the Dugans, the Angstadts and the Pannabeckers, they represent the three POW/MIA families here in Berks County, all Air Force, all Colonels, all flyers. This is their chair. This chair belongs to all of the families of all the men and women that have even been a POW or MIA...” said Leinbach. “We must always remember... Today, we’re here to thank Cabela’s for putting a symbol in their store that will encourage everyone who comes to this place to remember that freedom is not free and to remember we will not rest until every one comes home.”