Project underway to honor missing servicemen
By Brian L. Gray
Over the course of America’s wars dating back to World War I, a total of 360 servicemen from North Dakota have been held as prisoners of war or disappeared and never returned home.
These individuals came from all various branches of the military, but all of them had one main thing in common – they each faced the ultimate sacrifice in defending America, and to this day remain listed as missing in action.
Now a memorial to honor these missing servicemen is in the works, as a way to show that they are not forgotten.
The project is called the North Dakota POW/MIA Memorial. Three local clubs, The Viet Nam Vets, The Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club and the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club, have formed to raise money to erect a memorial statue honoring these lost servicemen. The memorial will be placed at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery, located south of Mandan.
Rick Colling, the sergeant-at-arms with the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club, said the idea for the memorial began in 2006, and its grassroots campaign to pay for the project, which is now in its seventh year, is finally beginning to take root.
It was last year 2012 that the fundraiser received the majority of its funding, and now the plan to honor the state’s missing servicemen is becoming a reality.
Colling says the fundraising campaign is at the halfway point in its fundraising effort. He says the timeline for the memorial will be wholly dependent on when the money is raised, so there is no set time when construction will begin.
The design of the memorial, however, has been worked out. Names of each of the 360 servicemen will be etched into a 6-foot high granite wall that will include two benches on a bricked sitting area, with and a concrete walkway leading to the memorial. The cost to construct the memorial runs about $200,000, so the clubs are seeking donations to bring the project to fruition.
In 2006, after coming up with the idea, Colling approached the Veterans Cemetery Director at the time, Phil Miller, to inquire about plans for the memorial after the three groups decided to pursue the idea. “Miller informed me that our timing couldn’t have been more perfect, because he’d just been informed that the MIA/POW flag, which flies with the American flag at the cemetery, now had to be flown on its own. This gave us another reason to move forward with the plans.”
From there, designs were drawn up and financing for the project began.
Colling, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, knows firsthand the impact a missing serviceman has on a family. He has a cousin who served in the Korean War and remains missing to this day, “so this kind of thing really hits home for me,” he says.
The memorial, Colling says, is a long overdue display to commemorate those who gave everything and have never returned to American soil. He would like the wall to honor not only the memory of those who fought for the country, but also for the families that have never received full closure with a grave to mark their lost loved ones.
“It’s about time we get something for our North Dakota families. One missing person impacts a lot of people – their brother, their mother, their wives, their families, and it still impacts them,” Colling says. “And those people have to live without that closure their entire lives.”
The project is being funded entirely by donations, and no tax dollars are involved. Colling says the fundraising group was asked by some of North Dakota’s legislators if they would like some state money for the project. But after a vote was taken, the group chose to keep this project a grassroots effort. “We decided we were going to let the people who want to contribute help out, and chose not to seek tax dollars,” Colling said.
Any additional money that comes in after the goal is reached will go towards the long-term maintenance of the memorial.
If you are interested in making a donation, you can mail checks to VNVLV M/C, Security First Bank of ND, PO Box 4250, Bismarck, ND 58502, or call any of the project’s board of directors – Colling at 391-0032, John Olson at 223-3353 or Virgil Horst at 667-8802.