Freedom Ride reaches POW/MIA Memorial for 20th time

MEREDITH — Bob Jones, a local POW-MIA activist who was instrumental in starting the weekly POW-MIA vigil, now in its 25th year, was honored, along with the Northeast POW/MIA Network, at the 20th annual Freedom (Motorcycle) Ride gathering at Hesky Park last night.
State Senator Jeanie Forrester of Meredith presented Jones with two State Senate proclamations honoring him and the network and noting that the vigil held in Meredith every Thursday night for the last 25 years is ''the longest running continuing vigil in the United States,''
Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren said that both the vigil and the nearby POW-MIA monument, which has been designated as the state's first official POW-MIA monument, were due to the work Jones has done.
Governor Maggie Hassan praised the work that Jones and the network have done to help families of POWs and those missing in action to ''find closure they so richly deserve and honor their service by making their families whole.'
"Our primary focus this year is to dedicate our vigil to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his family," said Jones, vice-president of the Northeast POW/MIA Network. "We need to do everything necessary and raise awareness so we can bring this American soldier home."
Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and is believed to be held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, likely somewhere in Pakistan.
Among those called on to speak at the gathering was Mark Decoteau, a 1983 West Point graduate and town manager in Waterville Valley, whose whose son Army Pfc. Marc Paul Decoteau was killed in action in Afghanistan on Jan. 29, 2010.
Decoteau, whose younger son Andrew is a completing his freshman year at West Point, led the pledge of allegiance after asking members of other Gold Star families — those who have lost a loved one who was in service to his/her country — to come forward during the pledge.
He said that at least for his family there is an identifiable end point now that his son is buried in Waterville Valley, while there is no such closure for those families in POW-MIA situations.
''We should never forget our missing heroes,'' said Decoteau.
Also called upon to speak was Wesley Wells of Bradford, who was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines and was held prisoner for over three years during World War II.
Wells, who is now 90, said he had taken part in the Freedom Ride parade from the Lowe's parking lot in Gilford and was impressed with the large turnout.
''It wasn't just the bikers in the ride, but the people all along the route who waved at us and cheered. It was quite a parade,'' said Wells, who said that both the world and the military have changed a lot in the 72 years since he joined the military.


A World War II era motorcycle sits in Hesky Park with a color guard in the background at the 25th annual POW-MIA Vigil and 20th annual Freedom Ride at Hesky Park in Meredith. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)