A group of veterans from Texarkana and the surrounding communities gathered in the 32nd annual POW-MIA Vigil that began Friday afternoon at the Korea/Vietnam Memorial on State Line Avenue.
The event will continue today with a lunch, the annual Ride to Remember and more.
These warriors find comfort in gathering with those who have raised their right hand to serve and, in many cases, have endured some harrowing experiences in the service of their nation.
Dwight Nevill, president of the Texarkana chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Association, reflects on his four years in the Marine Corps, especially his tour in Vietnam, 1969.
His memories of Base Camp Anhoa with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as a "ground pounder" (a member of the infantry or a rifleman) are still with him. But after a certain point, he decided to become involved in veterans' issues.
"I've been involved with vets' issues since '82," he said. "Toys for Tots (Marine) was the first veteran activity I participated in. Eventually, I became involved with Vietnam Veterans of America Association."
The meetings Nevill has led have been a place where veterans can deal with issues lingering from the war, in a safe environment with people who have been through similar things themselves and understand.
"Vets of that era have dealt with PTSD, Agent Orange and the like. And as time has gone on, especially with the latest generation of veterans, it has been found out that these concerns are carried with them, too. So we've cast our support net wider," he said. "We want to be a place where they can open up about these issues. They don't have to be out there alone."
Greg Beck, a Marine veteran, has been a long-time advocate for veterans' issues, specifically the return of prisoners of war and finding those missing in action.
"It is about closure," he said. "I've experience helping families to find the remains of their loved one who died over there. It is an incredible thing when you help a family get their loved one back. They may be gone, but to at least get that helps them get closure. And you bring a service member home."
Beck is the president of the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America and has made this the focus of his work. So as a part of this vigil, they are doing it again.
"A ride is part of the vigil and participating in the ride is the Johnny Richardson, Corvette Club president and veteran (Army). His uncle is Billy Edward Johnson, USMC. He went MIA during Vietnam.
He was found because Johnson's brother gave DNA to the organization seeking the missing from the Korean War. With that, they were able to find and identify Johnson," Beck said. "He is a highly decorated Marine and after all this time, his remains are coming home to his family. He will be escorted by Lance Cpl. Hunter Richardson, Johnny Richardson's nephew, in a separate event."
The group keeping vigil will have a rice and cabbage lunch at noon today, representing the common prison fare Vietnam prisoners of war had.
The 25th annual Ride to Remember procession will gather at 2:40 p.m. at the Arkansas Travel Center and travel down south on U.S. Highway 71. Vehicles can include all street-legal motorcycles, big rigs, cars and trucks.
Once the procession arrives at the memorial, there will be a balloon release at about 3 p.m., followed by a POW-MIA memorial and recognition service at 3:10 p.m. A closing candlelight service will take place at 8 p.m.
The public is invited to participate in these events.