Advocates for POW/MIAs stand during the Freedom Ride vigil. (Photo by Erin Plummer) (click for larger version)
June 20, 2019MEREDITH — Despite some rain, supporters of POW/MIA's still rode their bikes from Gilford to Meredith for the 26th annual Freedom Ride ending with the 31st annual vigil at Hesky Park.
The Northeast POW/MIA Network organized the ride and vigil that has become a long Bike Week tradition and part of the organization's Thursday night vigils by "The Rock," New Hampshire's Original POW/MIA Memorial. The ride started at Winnipesaukee Commons in Gilford and went down Route 3 through the Weirs, ending right at Hesky Park.
Due to steady rains throughout the day numbers were significantly smaller, though many riders and supporters still took part and listened to a number of guest speakers.
Hiram Sasser, General Counsel from the legal organization First Liberty Institute, talked about an ongoing controversy and legal action regarding the Bible on the Northeast POW/MIA network's Missing Man Table at the VA Medical Center in Manchester. First Liberty Institute is representing the Northeast POW/MIA Network in a lawsuit that had been filed calling for the removal of a Bible that Herman "Herk" Streitburger carried while held prisoner by the Germans during World War II. Earlier this year the Military Religious Freedom Foundation called for the Bible to be removed. The VA center initially removed it, but after an outpouring of protests the Bible was put back on. The MRFF is filing suit on behalf of veteran James Chamberlain against the director of the Manchester VA to have the Bible removed, saying it promotes one religion over others.
Sasser said this suit could go on for a long time and he said they are prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
"We are going to be representing the folks here for free all the way through," Sasser said.
First Liberty is also involved in a case before the US Supreme Court defending a 40-foot 100-year-old World War I veteran's memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland that was deemed unconstitutional because it was shaped like a cross.
"Hopefully, we'll save that memorial and we'll set a precedent to save the Bible in (Manchester)," Sasser said.
Josh McElveen, a former reporter with WMUR who served in the Marines during Operation Desert Storm, spoke about his experiences and introduced a good friend of his.
McElveen said when he was in high school he got in trouble before graduation and had to miss his prom. In protest he decided not to take his finals, which he soon realized was a huge mistake. He wanted to go to college and decided to join the Marines to get the GI Bill. Right when he entered the service Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. He realized this might mean he would be sent to war.
"The blood drained out of my body; this is my job now," McElveen said.
He served in Iraq and returned home after Desert Storm was over.
"We were welcomed home like heroes," McElveen said.
He said he was a bit uneasy with this and being thanked for his service, especially considering veterans of the Vietnam War didn't receive such a warm welcome.
He said he found in regards to veterans issues there were three kinds of people, the wolves, the sheep, and the sheepdogs who protect sheep against the wolves. He said one of the greatest sheepdog he has known is Brigadier Gen. Don Bolduc.
Bolduc served in the military for 32 years, including 10 tours of duty in Afghanistan.
"I realized when people thank me for my four years of service in the Gulf War they're thanking him too," McElveen said.
Bolduc, a resident of Laconia, joins his service dog Victor in speaking for veterans.
"Veterans' issues are America's issues, period," Bolduc said. "We need to get comfortable with that and we need to understand that."
Bolduc said when he sees that Bible on the Missing Man table at the VA he kneels and says a prayer.
He said it is essential to understand the concept of service, saying this is embodied in the POW/MIA Memorial at Hesky Park and the work of Bob Jones and the Northeast POW/MIA Network. He said it is an honor to be from the Lakes Region.
"The people that are special are the people who do the work every single day," Bolduc said. "You have my utmost respect. I salute you, I serve you, you are what makes America great and I want to thank you very much for all that you do here."