Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Notes from Candlelight Vigil

My husband was asked to share a part in a Candlelight Vigil for POW Sgt Bowe Bergdahl this past weekend. This Sargent is our only POW in Afghanistan. He has been a prisoner of the Taliban for almost 3 years now. If you would like some more information on him, I'm going to post some links that I found on the web. Do Salute is collecting a petition to get this soldier home. As of today, they are over 62,000 signatures. When the signature drive started, they were told that they would be lucky to get 5,000. Do Salute is still collecting the signatures. If you would like to add your name and the name of 9 of your friends to this petition to get a fellow American home, click here, print it out, fill it out, and mail it to the PO Box listed on the form.

My hubby made an awesome speech. I will post his speech when I get the ok. He got the honor to read the most amazing letter. I have an email out to this wonderful lady to see if it would be ok with her for me to post her letter for you all to read. I did take some notes during the vigil (it's what I do, I take notes everywhere). I can give you those right now.

The music for the evening was played by John Freiner and Scott Stieber. They shared their talents on the saxophone and the piano. They were really good. The hubby is a HUGE sax fan and to hear the national anthem played on the saxophone was a highlight of his night.

The VFW posted the Colors (that's were they walk up the flags, position them, and salute them).
We said the Pledge Of Allegiance, sang the National Anthem, and a veteran led us in a prayer to start off the  vigil.

They had collected almost 62,000 signatures at the time of the ceremony.
(Keep in mind, these are just my notes; they may end up disjointed fragments. I will try my best to remember.)

The Master of Ceremonies was local radio host Pat Snyder. He introduced John Weber as our first speaker of the night. Mr Snyder share that this would be one tremendous nation if we could bottle what John has and give even just a little bit to everyone.

John Weber was our first speaker of the evening. He shared how his determination to become an Eagle Scout, get confirmed, and keep up grades has filled his days lately. He shared some of the story of  how he got his "new parents". John also shared how the older he got, the more hope he lost about the good things in life and how he tried not to dream while in the orphanage. It hurt to have too much hope. He shared how his new family went beyond the call of duty and how freedom has become his forever friend. John shared how he feels that the veterans are all brothers since becoming a citizen July 18, 2008. John shared a lesson that he learned from the orphanage...never will I leave a fallen comrade. He reminded us that vets and soldiers are a living library. He knows what it felt like to be left behind and forgotten, have little to eat, and be told you don't matter. Which is why he feels so passionately for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. John shared that he learned while living in Russia that human nature offers protection and the body shuts off certain parts for the whole to survive and the body continues to tell you to never give up. He shared that one of the most important things his "new parents" taught him is that "what happened to me wasn't my fault." John shared that he found out about Sgt Bowe Bergdahl through a FaceBook site. He also shared that "if we pray hard enough, Bowe might feel the prayers." John shared the story on collecting signatures; where they all went and how impactful each event was. John  wants Bowe home safely with honor. He also said that if Sgt Bowe Bergdahl needs help getting off the plane, "I know over 60,000 Americans who would be willing to help."

The Master of Ceremonies introduced my hubby with a story about noticing that he was listed on the program as being a former Marine and Mr.Snyder shared that he got to be a guest at a Marine bootcamp once and learned, "once a Marine, always a Marine."

Mitch (my hubby) received the honor of reading a letter written by Ms Birtram for this Vigil. Her husband, Cpt James D Birtram, has been MIA since 1968. She shared that the families are told to be quiet and patient. Ms Birtram told us that there were 40,000 servicemen written off whether killed or not and they were given a number instead of a name. She shared that families get tired listening to the waiting. She said that it's ironic that John (a young man from Russia) reminds us of what freedom is and what we should feel for our soldiers. Ms Birtram reminded us that the names of the fallen soldiers used to run at the end of the news every night and wondered why we don't see Sgt Bowe Bergdahl at the end of the national news every night. She wonders how can we call ourselves a great nation if we don't care for our soldiers as we should.
Mitch started his speech with his awe in how Bowe's parents think this is God's plan.  "His plan is much bigger than each one of us." Mitch shared that he was praying one night that the Lord gives Bowe the strength to endure and prayed that Jesus Christ would shine through Bowe and share with those who hold him hostage.
It was a moving letter and speech. He choked up and cried through many parts of it. He also had many grown men and women crying along with him through his speech. One woman thanked him for being so real.

Patricia Hopper was next. She works with Task Force Omega as a research analyst for POW/MIA. Her son is a Vietnam POW/MIA. She shared that this issue is a numbers game; that our soldiers are numbers. Ms Hopper told us that Sgt Bergdahl is the only one in Afghanistan. That he represents all of our men and women. She reminded us that our government reacts, it doesn't act (it's not proactive). "When we let our voices be heard, they act." Ms Hopper shared that she believes Sgt Bergdahl has accomplished in 36 days what the POW/MIA bracelets accomplished in 2 years (1920-1922). "He is one of us, he is ours. He's the only one that knows what has happened." She told us that there are lots of rumors going around about what he's doing over in Afghanistan. "If they know what he's doing, they know where he is and they should go and get him." Ms Hopper implored us to let our voices be heard because that let's our soldiers know that we care about what happens to them. She feels that all politicians are responsible whether in or out of office. Ms Hopper shared that Sgt Bergdahl is not in a classic war camp because he is the only one: they cut his hair when they need him to look like himself, otherwise they let it grow so that he will blend in. She shared what the government has been listing him as: duty station whereabouts unknown as of July 1, 2009; July 3, 2009 missing captured; and they are still battling to get him labeled as a POW. Sgt Bergdahl has managed 2 escapes: first was for 10 days loose before being recaptured by the Taliban; second was this December for 3 days before being recaptured. Each time the Taliban has released video of him. Ms Hopper admires this strength and will of character to escape; "he's doing everything he can to come home." "We have an obligation to bring him home." Ms Hopper informed us that we can Google Sgt Bergdahl and find the three broadcasts that the Taliban has released. She called him "the tip of the spear." She informed us that the white house is aware of the petition and is keeping an eye on it. Ms Hopper also sent a message out that, "if he dies before he comes home, God help you." She also stated that, "we will never take a warrior and throw you away for politics."

Mayor of Wausau, Jim Tipple spoke next. He said that we are "here because of our love of country." He shared that 83,000 service men and women from in all wars are still missing and of those 16 service members have been identified this past year off the list. Mayor Tipple had been asked to read a letter from the mayor of Hailey: He welcomed John to our nation of immigrants and shared that they have adopted Sgt  Bowe Bergdahl. The town has voted to make Sgt Bergdahl honorary grand marshall of this years 4th of July parade.

Attorney John Yackel was up next. He gave another heart wrenching speech; choked himself up and a few member of the audience as well. Mr Yackel shared with us that he met John two years ago and that he believes that John has a limitless future. He said that tonight "we are sending a clear message to the world that we will not forget or give up." That by honoring Sgt Bergdahl, we honor all the POWs. Mr Yackel wonders if the American character has changed. But he is sure that "the past generations would recognize the characters of these two men." (Sgt Bergdahl and John Weber) He was asked to read a letter written by Kay Gilbert. Her son Troy was killed in the war: "99% of him was buried by the enemy in some unmarked grave." She said that "hope is a strong tool and blessing." Ms Gilbert shared with us that she can "handle my situation better with God than without him." She encouraged us all to "hold up the light and God will prevail."

Representative Tom Tiffany spoke next. "We in Wisconsin have not forgotten. I wish to present Wisconsin Blue Book to the Bergdahl family to remember Wisconsin."

Representative Donna Seidel spoke next on John's tireless work and how he has reminded us that community service important. She encouraged us to find more reasons to come together. Ms Seidel was downhearted that if it wasn't for John we might not have known about Sgt Bergdahl. She feels that this petition has "become a shining example of what can happen in America."

The Master of Ceremonies shared with us at this point that while he was over in Iraq, he learned that the military leaders ended each game plan with a prayer. He was moved by this because it happened no matter how small the plan, they ended with a prayer.  Mr Snyder also shared that "the returning soldiers are humble and they are a brotherhood forever watchful of each other."

Next was the POW/MIA table presentation. I tried to make as copious notes as I could but I know I did not write nearly fast enough: laid his cap on the table, tipped over the glass, lit the candle; small table symbolizes the helplessness of the single soldier; tablecloth is white to symbolize the purity of their intentions as they go to war; bread plate with a slice of lemon on it to symbolize their bitter faith; salt to symbolize bitter tears; a single rose to symbolize the family waiting; a yellow ribbon around the vase to symbolize our passion for their return; candle symbolized the light of hope; glass inverted to symbolize that they cannot toast us; chair is empty to symbolize that they are not here; remember.

Mr Nate Nez spoke next. He is the WDVA here on behalf of Governor Scott Walker. He himself was in the Air Force for 20 years. Mr Nez had the honor of reading a letter from Scott Walker: "Their service and sacrifice must always be remembered." and the other quote I caught was, "the willingness of future soldiers is determined by how the previous have been treated." Mr Nez also shared a personal story of how he got the chance to work on Operation Homecoming during the Vietnam war. He went to Hanoi to bring them home. Mr Nez share that "the joy of those soldiers when the plane took off to go home" was his greatest memory. He finished by saying, "thanks for keeping the faith."

A letter was read that was written by Representative Jerry Petrowski. He expressed the fact that the "loved ones left behind have the burden their loved ones accept." He also asked that we "make a commitment to our military and their families," and to "hold true the commitment we made to our armed soldiers to leave no one behind."

Next up was Mr Mark Tilkens, the WI State Director of Rolling Thunder. He had the honor of reading Sgt Artie Mueller's letter. In 1988 was the first Rolling Thunder demonstration in Washington DC. Their mission is the recovery of remains from all wars. "The government keeps track of the funds for all equipment, but what about our men and women?" Mr Mueller asked us to keep pressure on our government to bring Sgt Bergdahl home. Mr Tilkens informed us that this year is the 25th anniversary of the first Rolling Thunder demonstration this Memorial Day in Washington DC: 90,000 motorcycles are going to drive up and down Pennsylvania Ave; "they're going to hit the government alongside the head"; they're going to stay and talk about Bowe.

Our last speaker of the night was Mr Tom Tradewell, VFW  Post Commander and Chief. He shared with us that these riders bring the heart and soul of the nation. That it takes all day ride to the memorial and he is excited to be going. Mr Tradewell gave us some history on the VFW. There are 7000 VFW posts. "The government accepted no responsibility for the ravages of war on the soldiers and their families" leading to the start of the VFW. Mr Tradewell has been around the world sharing his passion for the American full accounting mission. 83,000 servicemen missing since WWII ("missing Americans" he made sure to express.) "It's the right thing to do for the families. Their world involves reliving the moment that they were notified about his capture."

Pastor Steven Gjerde of Zion Lutheran Church led us in the candle lighting and prayer finale. He shared with us Psalm 27. "To keep vigil is to keep watch. They keep watch for us, now we keep watch for them." Pastor Gjerde thanked John  for the watch that he has been keeping. "Sometimes our watch doesn't go the way we want it to. That's when we remember who really keeps watch and who never sleeps...Jesus Christ. He is our light and salvation that never fails. Pastor Gjerde shared with us Psalm 130 followed by a time of silence by candlelight.

It was...I can't find the words to share how this evening felt. There isn't just one word to describe it. Except maybe "humbling". We as Americans has much to learn and experience. We need to know what is happening around us and how we can affect the world in simple ways. It's the small things (like a signature or a vote) that can change the world.