TOP STORY >>Honoring POW/MIAs
By HEATHER HARSTELL
Leader staff writer
During a ceremony honoring veterans at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock on Thursday, retired Chief MSgt. Silas B. LaGrow of Jacksonville, a survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during the Second World War, placed a wreath in memory of the 93,852 servicemen and women whose last known whereabouts were missing in action or prisoners of war.
Part of a nationwide program to honor veterans, the Civil Air Patrol and the Patriot Guard Riders placed wreaths representing the five branches of military service and POW/MIAs. The ceremonies, held simultaneously at more than 230 national and state veteran cemeteries and monuments across the country, were inspired by the 15-year tradition of placing wreaths donated by Worcester Wreath Company at graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Civil Air Patrol expanded the ceremonies this year as the Wreaths Across America campaign, marking the first year that remembrance wreaths were placed on sites nationwide. Wreaths Across America’s mission is to remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach future generations that our freedoms come from great sacrifice.
Ceremonies within Arkansas were also held at the Little Rock National Cemetery, the Fayetteville National Cemetery, and the Fort Smith National Cemetery.
Nate Polk, a master sergeant at Little Rock Air Force Base, was the master of ceremonies on behalf of his other title, central Arkansas permanent ride captain in the Patriot Guard Riders, a national group of motorcycle riders formed in 2005 to show their respect to members of the Armed Forces by attending their funerals as invited guests of the families.
After observing a moment of silence, Polk told those in attendance to “remember the fallen, the POW’s, the MIA’s, those who served and those who are currently serving this great nation of ours today.”
Gathered to honor those who “have given their lives so we can live in freedom without fear,” Polk added a thank you to those that had given their lives to keep our freedom.
“Take a moment to say thank you,” Polk said. “That moment of your time will be well spent with a simple ‘thank you’ to a veteran or service man.”
A united front across the United States to honor those who had fallen, members of each branch of service, assisted by a retired service member or Patriot Guard Rider, laid wreaths at each branch’s memorial.
Before placing the wreath for those missing and killed, Polk introduced LaGrow and read a short biography of his military career.
“He’s truly a hero,” Polk said of LaGrow, “you could write books on what he did and his history.”
LaGrow, a cook in C Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion in the National Guard, was stationed at Clark Field on Luzon Island in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked it on Dec. 8, 1941.
He recounted that all he could do when it happened was stand there and look. “It seemed like a false alarm, no one ever thought they would attack the U.S.,” LaGrow said.
Now 88 years old, LaGrow became a prisoner of war April 9, 1942. At the start of the Bataan Death March, LaGrow weighed 175 pounds; two weeks later, he was down to 110 pounds.
He suffered from malaria and had to be helped by others during the journey.
“We all had to help each other,” LaGrow said.
On Oct. 8, 1942, he arrived at Camp O’Donnell. From there he was shipped to Manchuria, spending two days on the docks in Manila waiting for the ships to be ready. Two others from C Company were with him. They spent five days in the ship’s hold before sailing 31 days to dock in Korea.
“All we had to eat was fish and wormy rice, and you couldn’t pick out all of the worms,” LaGrow said. He added that at times, they were so hungry they ate the rice, worms and all.
From the docks of Korea, they were shipped by train to Manchuria and once there, received only one set of clothes and an over-coat to combat the cold. The wooden barracks they were housed in were so small “we slept on our side so we would all squeeze in.”
LaGrow’s journey ended in 1945 when the Russians liberated the area.
“It is a great honor to be able to place the wreath, it is hard to say what an honor it is,” LaGrow said. “I know the POW’s that are no longer with us are looking down at us on this ceremony.
“This is something I’ll remember the rest of my days. I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard it was coming here,” LaGrow said.
Polk said the ceremony was only possible through the efforts of many motivated people, having been planned out nationwide in only two weeks time.
“It was totally my honor to participate in this event,” Polk said. “It’s an absolute perfect cause and the Guard Riders’ purpose is to help those who’ve served. It was my privilege to do so.”