By Margaret Downing


Attendance Sept. 9 at the annual “POW/MIA Candlelight Remembrance Ceremony and Concert” was very good. As has been the case in the past at times, the event was held this year at the Loves Park City Hall Complex Gymnasium, 100 Heart Blvd. Other times it has been held at the Arthur W. Anderson Field of Honor Memorial adjacent to the facility. It is sponsored by the Rockford Charter Chapter VietNow. This year’s keynote speaker was area personality Michael Koolidge. As noted by event organizer, Bruce Jacobsen, “Koolidge is a former Army captain. Mike’s Army service took him through the hills of Kentucky, the parachute drop zones of Georgia, the swamps of Louisiana, the sands and mountains of the Mojave Desert, the windy city of Chicago – and finally to the combat zone of Kuwait and Iraq, serving in the very beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Kuwait and Iraq from Sept. 2002 to Sept. 2003.” Koolidge’s speech focused on his part in the Iraq war to make sure proper identification on each person was there and correct, and insuring no one was left behind and accounting for all personnel.  He closed with the inspiring challenge to “complete the mission.” VietNow continues to honor that challenge to “complete the mission” of recovering all MIAs. Koolidge also explained how important dog tags were to personnel. The main point being if injured and not able to communicate, medical personnel would know what blood type was needed.

Event organizer, Bruce Jacobsen, later talked about the candle-holding pieces seen next to the “Missing Man Table”, and said, “The rebuilt candle-holding stands displayed during the ceremony was a very big rebuild with a lot of metal fabrication. The candle-holding assemblies on display were donated by the Koelker family after the death of Verna Koelker,” Jacobsen added. “Verna had come up with the stands after it became apparent that bending over to place candles in containers on the ground was difficult and returning to standing upright was even more difficult for many as they aged. She had been providing the stands to VietNow for a number of years. “The exciting part is that they are being refurbished and enhanced by Harlem High School industrial arts students. The process included breaking them down into subassembly pieces that conveniently stack and can be carried in a car instead of an SUV or large pickup truck. They will also be suitable for other events – and portions can be used for other uses, such as banner holders. There is no longer sand to place the candles in, as was necessary during past remembrance ceremonies. The new holders have an individual socket for each candle to be placed in. There are also windscreens when we are outdoors and when actually lighting the candles in the future. The students have worked on many projects in support of Veterans over the years under the guidance of teacher William Duncan.”

VietNow Color Guard Commander and Treasurer Darrell Gilgan spoke to the assemblage about the Chapter’s namesake, Alan Lee Boyer, who went MIA in 1968 and whose remains finally returned home earlier this year. Gilgan said, “Tonight it is fitting for us to honor an adopted son of our city, Alan Lee Boyer. Alan’s mom Dorothy, dad Chuck and sister Judy moved to Rockford in 1965 while Alan was attending the University of Montana. Alan and Judy’s father passed away in 1995 and their mother in 2013.

MARGARET DOWNING PHOTO The Journal Gold Star parents and Rockford residents Angie and Jim White, daughter Lori Sabin, friends Ray Meyers and Ginger Powell, and Devon Betts (from right) attended the VietNow event Sept. 9. Angie and Jim's son, Kenneth Leroy White, 21, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, was killed in Vietnam on May 1, 1969.

Gold Star parents and Rockford residents Angie and Jim White, daughter Lori Sabin, friends Ray Meyers and Ginger Powell and Devon Betts (from right) attended the VietNow event Sept. 9. Angie and Jim’s son, Kenneth Leroy White, 21, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, was killed in Vietnam on May 1, 1969.

Sergeant First Class, Alan Lee Boyer, U.S. Army Special Forces, a Green Beret, went missing on March 28, 1968, while on a reconnaissance mission several miles inside of Laos, along with two other American Sergeants and seven South Vietnamese soldiers. They came under heavy enemy fire and requested extraction. Because of rough terrain the helicopter couldn’t land and a rope ladder was extended. The seven South Vietnamese (ARVN) were extracted and Alan was starting to climb the rope ladder when it either caught on jungle foliage or was shot away, aborting the mission and stranding the three Americans. A subsequent search party a few days later could find no trace of them. Alan was listed as Missing in Action for nearly 48 years. His remains had been given by three Lao Nationals (“remains traders”) to an activist in Laos who turned them in. Alan’s sister, Judy Boyer Bouchard, was notified on March 7 of this year that Alan’s remains had been recovered and she was presented with Alan’s medals, including the Silver Star (the third highest military decoration awarded) and a Purple Heart (awarded to troops who were wounded in action). We will probably never know just exactly when and where Alan died but now he is home. Alan’s interment took place at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on Wednesday, June 22 of this year.”

Music was very much a part of the remembrance ceremony Sept. 9. The Rockford Wind Ensemble, directed by Kevin Jensen, was a joy to hear. The Presentation of Colors by the Rockford Charter Chapter VietNow was impressive with “Call to Colors” given by Paul Saltzgiver. Soloist Gaia Galvan sang “God Bless America and The Star Spangled Banner.”  VietNow Chaplain Bob Theroux gave the invocation and benediction. Master of Ceremonies was VietNow member and Army veteran, Mike Parker. Rockford Charter Chapter VietNow President Loren Salzman gave welcome and acknowledgement. Loves Park Mayor Darryl Lindberg introduced distinguished guests and gave a short talk. Gold Star Mother, Angie White, read three relevant poems and narrated the “Missing Man Table Ceremony.” Vietnam Army VietNow Veteran, Past Chapter President and Bronze Star recipient, Mary Nicholls, assisted with the table. Don Allen and Milana Herman did a reading of “Names of Illinois POW/MIA” personnel from the Vietnam War era. Gene Koelker with the Rockford Navy Club did Bell tolling, then the audience participated in the “Candle Lighting Ceremony.” Soloist Ryan Jensen sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and led the audience in the singing of “God Bless the USA.” A rifle volley salute by the Color Guard and the playing of “Taps” ended the event. Vicki Hastings and Paul Saltzgiver, accompanied by drummer Bryce Strunk, played “Taps.” Fellowship and refreshments in the cafeteria followed.

Mike Parker and Darrell Gilgan both noted that there are still 1,618 missing in action or service members still listed, including those from the war in Vietnam. Per Bruce Jacobsen, “At this web site: official government office for this issue ‘More than 83,000 Americans remain missing from WW II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars/other conflicts. Out of the 83,000 missing, 75 percent of the losses are located in the Asia-Pacific, and over 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea (i.e. ship losses, known aircraft water losses, etc.).”’

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