POW/MIA vigil at Lansing Veterans Memorial part of National Recognition Day

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POWMIA vigil
Members of the Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard hold a POW/MIA flag at the vigil on Friday night. (Photo provided by the Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard)
By Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (September 20, 2021) – We honor our military heroes when they return home with flags and parades. And we mourn those who don’t come home alive with memorials and remembrances.

But there are many who have served and never made their way home. According to the Department of Defense, there are more than 81,600 Americans who remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts.

Annual POW/MIA vigil

A group of local veterans has been meeting for an annual vigil for over two decades to make sure those categorized as POW/MIA are not forgotten.

As part of National POW/MIA Recognition Day, members of the Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard host an annual vigil to remember POW/MIA military members at the Lansing Veterans Memorial, located at the Lansing Municipal Airport. The first event was held 21 years ago, started by Honor Guard members Bob Graham and Chuck Mabry.

This event began as an overnight vigil from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the hill of the memorial. Accoring to Rich Dominiak, a coordinator of the Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard, the hours were reduced and the vigil was brought to the base of the memorial for safety reasons. In remembering prisoners of war and those who are missing in action, a flame remains lit throughout the event.

“A watch fire was used during war to let men know that they were safe to proceed,” said Dominiak.

POW/MIA vigil
From left to right: Scott Wagner, member of American Legion Post 697 Sons of the American Legion; Nick Grigutis, American Legion Post 697 member and Legion Rider Commander; Rich Dominiak, Coordinator of Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard; and Bert Gangolf, Past Commander, Lansing American Legion Post 697 were some of the last to leave Friday night’s vigil. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

The ceremony had largely wrapped up by 9 p.m., when rain started to fall on the remaining participants.

Honor, remember, and inform

“The purpose is to not only honor and remember those U.S. military service men and women who were, or still are, classified as either prisoners of war or missing in action, but to also raise public awareness of this issue as well as let the families of these men and women know that they aren’t alone in their quest for answers and closure,” said Rich Dominiak, a coordinator of the Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard.

Most of the attendees, numbering a total of about 24 this year, were Lansing Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Honor Guard members or local veterans and their spouses and significant others. Scott Wagner, a past Sons of the American Legion Commander for 17 years was there to show support. His father was a World War II veteran.

“I’ve been attending this for about 15 years or so. I like to be part of the veterans activities being with Sons of the American Legion,” said Wagner. He explained that the SAL helps veterans and community organizations through fundraising and donations. Although the membership has decreased in recent years, the organization still has a strong roster of members that currently stands at 223 and is the third largest chapter in the state of Illinois.

Bert Gangolf, past Commander of Lansing American Legion Post 697 said it’s important for him to attend this event that is also recognized at the state and national level. The Air Force Veteran, who served in Thailand and Vietnam during his service from 1969-1973, was honoring another significant military event over the weekend — the anniversary of the U.S. Air Force being established as a separate military branch on September 18, 1947.

Nick Griguitis, a member of American Legion Post 697 and Legion Rider Commander is also a U.S. Army Veteran who served from 1983-1985 and was stationed in Germany. “I’m glad to be here and to come support the cause,” he said.

The Lansing’s Veterans Memorial is located at the southeast corner of Burnham Avenue and Glenwood Lansing Road.

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