Prisoners, missing military remembered
Locals gathered Sept. 15 to honor prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
The third Friday of each September was set aside in 1979 by a proclamation by President Jimmy Carter to recognize and honor the sacrifice of the prisoners of war (POW) and soldiers missing in action (MIA) from America’s wars and conflicts. A POW/MIA recognition ceremony took place Friday, Sept. 15, at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park.
Local physician Dr. Sidney Clevinger, a featured speaker, recounted how his father, Gordon “Ben” Clevinger, served on the submarine USS Perch during World War II and was taken captive by the Japanese after the sub engaged in combat, was disabled by enemy fire and was eventually taken over.
Clevinger’s father and other crew members were taken to an island area known as Celebes, where they were held for 1,298 days and endured hardships like “eating rats, dogs, cats and monkeys.” He said his father dropped from a body weight of 210 pounds to 75 pounds. He eventually returned home.
Ceremony attendee Sue Elliot said her father, Arthur Singleton, was taken captive in the same area as Gordon Clevinger.
A listing on the Department of Defense website, defense.gov, provides these figures:
- There are about 81,600 Americans missing—from the battlefields of World War II to recent conflicts.
- There were 130,201 World War II POWs; of those, 14,072 died.
- There were 7,140 Korean War POWs; of those, 2,701 died.
- There were 725 Vietnam War POWs; of those, 64 died.
- There have been 37 POWs since the Vietnam War; no one is still in captivity.
The ceremony included a display of POW related items presented by Ron Montgomery, formerly with the Maine Military Museum in Portland, Maine. The artifacts are on permanent loan from the museum and will be placed in the Veteran Education Center adjacent to the park grounds for public viewing. The artifacts include a set of wooden crutches used by Vietnam War POW Capt. Raymond Vohden, who was captured in 1965 and spent 2,872 days in captivity.
Displays at the ceremony included a “tiger cage,” or small bamboo cell used by the North Vietnamese forces. Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Lewis Alston said he spent 24 hours inside one of the cages during an event in Pennsylvania and said there was scarcely room to move.
The PIW/MIA Recognition ceremony was presented by the Marion County Veteran’s Council; Hospice of Marion County; Ocali Society, Children of the American Revolution; and the Ocala Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Retired Col. Gorham L. Black was the master of ceremonies and spoke of international treaties on legal protections for POWS.
Vietnam War veterans Ron Oppliger, Steve Gallant, Paul Turner, Jerry Arthur, Fred Thomas, Ron Bagley and Rudy Lyons were among the many veterans on hand at the ceremony.
Veteran Charles Whitehead said the audience was “engaged.”
Ken Nichols, who served with the Navy in submarines from 1964 to 1983, represented the local chapter of the Nautilus Base, a group of veteran submariners.
Samuel Coventry, 17, president of the Ocali Society, Children of the American Revolution, provided a recitation of the MIA table ceremony, which includes symbols of an empty chair for the “missing or fallen service member” and a candle for the “light of hope.” Samuel is involved with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and the local DAR chapter is scheduling veteran interviews.
West Port High School JROTC provided a color guard. Renee Coventry with the Ocala DAR led the pledge of allegiance. Aiden Cocchiara sang “God Bless America” and John Earl played bagpipes. Jadon Wright recited an MIA poem and Hannah Stuckey sang the national anthem.
Dorothy Antonelli wore a locket with a photo of her uncle Peter Patete to the ceremony.
Antonelli, of Dunnellon, has steadfastly sought answers about the fate of Patete, who joined the Army at age 17 and was lost at age 20 in the Korean War. He was first listed as missing in action and was later considered killed in action, on Nov. 26, 1950.
“His remains have never been found,” she said.
Antonelli, born three years after her uncle’s death, traveled with her son, Edward, to a location called Arrowhead Hill in the demilitarized zone in Korea in 2019 in her pursuit of closure. She said she looked out over “the mountains where my uncle was last seen.”
She said she attends an annual Defense (Dept.) POW/MIA Accounting Agency family update meeting in Washington, D.C.
“There is a brand-new monument in the Veterans Memorial Park dedicated to Sgt. Patete for his valor and dedication while serving in the United States Army during the Korean War,” Antonelli added.
To learn more about POW/MIA, go to dpaa.mil