New Milford residents remember POW, MIA soldiers
NEW MILFORD — Veterans and civilians Sunday honored prisoners of war and the missing in action.
The Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Connecticut Forget-Me-Nots held its 32nd annual bell-ringing ceremony at St. Francis Xavier Church to honor the 43rd anniversary of the Paris peace accords, which ended the Vietnam War. Under this agreement, all prisoners of war were to be sent home within 90 days, but Kathy Shemeley, president of the New Milford group, said they were not.
From Connecticut alone, more than 100 soldiers have not been recovered from the Korean and Vietnam wars, she said.
During the ceremony, the group prayed, and Kat Wells, one of the organization’s leaders, read the soldiers’ names as a crowd of about 20 rang individual bells.
Wells said some of the Vietnam soldiers had been missing since 1967.
“It’s crazy to think of the lives we’ve lived in that time frame,” she said to the crowd.
After the Vietnam War, American prisoners were sent home, but not as many as expected, Shemeley said. Of the returning soldiers, few were seriously injured or suffered severe mental health issues, she said.
She said the Vietnamese likely kept badly injured soldiers to avoid questioning about their treatment and kept others for slave labor. Others, she suspects, were taken to Russia for questioning. In one case, authorities have proven Russia took a plane shot down in Vietnam in December 1972. Shemeley said the soldiers were likely taken, as well.
“If you’re going to take the plane, you’re certainly going to take the soldiers who know how to operate that plane,” she said.
Shemeley said some of these soldiers could still be alive. She told one story of a Hungarian soldier who was taken prisoner in another country in World War II. Thought to be insane because no one understood his language, he was put in a mental institution. Years later, a Hungarian doctor recognized his language and the soldier was brought home.
Over the years, reports have surfaced about 200 soldiers who were alive and kept underground in Vietnam, she said.
“The questions are there and until you can actually bring back remains ... it is possible they could be alive,” Shemeley said.
Doris Maitland, of Winsted, attended the ceremony in honor of her brother, Andre Guillet, who was shot down in Vietnam in 1966. Maitland and her family spent years trying to find her brother’s remains. Not until 2003 did they learn he was buried in Vietnam. Maitland and her husband want to visit the site, but bombs surround it, so it is too dangerous.
The couple had been told a team would clear the site to recover the remains this month, but that plan has been delayed.
For Maitland, having her brother’s remains would mean closure.
“I could sleep better, although it doesn’t keep me awake as much as it used to” she said. “And I would stop looking at his picture and crying. Every once in a while it pops up.”
Shemeley encouraged the crowd to write to the president and Congress to work to recover soldiers.
In the meantime, Shemeley said organization will continue to raise awareness for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“People (need to) realize that at the end of war not everyone is returned,” she said. “And that government should think twice, that other options are considered, before you send soldiers into war.”