A labor of love

By Sharon Bouchard

Feature Writer / Photographer

The creation of the POW/MIA Memorial and Alcove of Honor is truly a labor of love and respect for Neil Bickford of Anderson-Staples Post #112.

It all started last summer when a re-arrangement of office space and a stack of veterans pictures needed a place to be hung.

“I had to negotiate with the Legion’s executive board to get permission to take over this alcove,” said Bickford. “Once I got permission, I went to work and I’m still working on it.”

Bickford, who did three tours of duty, 14 years active military and six years inactive reserves, understands how important it is to honor and remember the sacrifice of his comrades in the picture frames.

Represented on the walls of the alcove are pictures of veterans of World War I, World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. Bickford hopes to continue with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the center of the back wall is the original document of the formation of Post #112 dated 1921. On either side are the pictures of Elmer P. Anderson and Roscoe D. Staples the two for whom the legion post would eventually be named. The original of the Oxford charter bearing those names and dated 1946 is on another wall.

Also on the memorial wall is a picture of Albert Belanger, who was killed in action in Viet Nam, and a letter awarding the bronze star to Belanger for valorous action in battle.

The centerpiece of the POW/MIA Memorial and Alcove of Honor is a table draped in white and an empty chair with a POW flag. On the table is a place setting, candles, red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon, an inverted glass and the American flag. On the plate are a lemon and some salt. Next to the place setting is the following explanation.

“We call your attention to the small table, which occupies a place of dignity and honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POW’s and MIA’s.

We call them comrades. They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay humble tribute to them and to bear witness to their continued absence.

The table is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressors.

The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.

The single rose in the vase signifies the blood they may have shed in sacrifice to ensure freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades, who keep faith, while awaiting their return.

The red ribbon on the vase represents the red ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper account of our comrades, who are not among us.

A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate.

The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.

The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us at this time.

The chair is empty. They are NOT here.

The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to open arms of a grateful nation.

The American Flag reminds us that many of them may never return, and have paid the supreme sacrifice to insure our freedom. Let us pray to the Supreme Commander that all of our comrades will soon be back within our ranks. Let us remember – and never forget their sacrifice. May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.”

Also on the table are the lists of the POWs and MIAs from Maine. They are never far from Bickford’s mind. “They’re what this is all about,” he said.

Bickford recently installed carpeting in the alcove and his next project is to raise enough money to install track lighting. A hunter’s breakfast was the beginning of the track light fundraiser and Bickford hopes for some donations to fund the project.

“I really want to shine a light on these heroes,” he said. “That’s why I do this.”


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