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MERCER Vigil keeps alive hope POWs, MIAs are alive



Published: Mon, January 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Local veterans will gather at the east side of the Mercer County Courthouse for a 24-hour POW-MIA vigil Friday and Saturday.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- Wayne Stratos thinks there may be some American servicemen captured during the Vietnam War who are still alive somewhere in Southeast Asia.

"We are still reading of South Korean soldiers, from the Korean War, escaping from North Korea," he said.

If they could have survived from the 1950s, American prisoners of war could have survived from the 1970s, he said.

Could Americans still be found alive there?

"I can't tell you that they will, but I won't tell you that they won't," said Stratos, chairman of the Mercer County Vietnam Era Veterans Association Inc.

Anniversary of accords: The association will have its annual POW-MIA 24-Hour Vigil this weekend to mark the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords which ended America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Those accords also were to mark the beginning of exchange of prisoners of war and military people missing in action. Stratos said there is ongoing evidence that the communist Vietnamese have not lived up to their side of the agreement.

As many as 2,200 Americans are still unaccounted for, some of whom were known to be alive at the time of their capture, and information is still being monitored in those cases, he said.

One of those missing is from Mercer County.

Army Capt. Maurice E. Garrett Jr. of West Middlesex disappeared when the helicopter he was flying crashed into a mountain in South Vietnam on Oct. 22, 1971. It was his second tour of duty in Vietnam.

The body of his co-pilot was found but Garrett never was.

Includes all wars: The annual vigil started out as a remembrance of those missing in Vietnam but has since branched out to include those missing from all of the wars in which the United States has participated.

Stratos, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, said there are 78,000 missing from World War II, 8,100 missing from the Korean War and 35 missing from Desert Storm.

The government reports there are more than 100 unresolved cases from the Vietnam War that are strong enough to have active, ongoing investigations, he said.

Veterans groups from Pittsburgh, Fayette County, Indiana, Pa., and Meadville make the trip to participate each year, he said.

Details: This year's vigil begins at 9 p.m. Friday and will end at 9 p.m. Saturday. It will be at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the west side of the courthouse and there will be a short ceremony at the monument at 7 p.m. Saturday.

U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie, R-21st, and state Sen. Robert Robbins of Greenville, R-50th, also a Vietnam veteran, are scheduled to participate.

gwin@vindy.com




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