JAY — Despite the threat of rain and strong winds from Tropical Storm Lee, attendance at the 32nd annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day Saturday morning, Sept. 16, for the most part was much better than expected.

Some last minute changes were made because of the storm, yet dozens of veterans, auxiliary members, officials and community members attended the shortened wreath laying ceremony at the POW/MIA Memorial located next to the Riley Road. Most also made their way afterwards to VFW Post 3335 on Jewell Street/Route 133 for the second part of the program.

The 32nd annual National Prisoner Of War/Missing Recognition Day ceremony was held Saturday morning, Sept. 16, in Jay. Patrick White, Oxford County director of United Bikers of Maine is seen riding along Riley Road as part of the ceremony. Also seen are Tracy and Jackie Hart of Bethel riding behind him. Despite the predicted weather, keeping the annual UBM participation was important, White said. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

It’s incredible that so many people came out for the ceremony at the monument, then came here, VFW Judge Adjutant James Manter, who organized the program, said afterwards. “That’s the most important thing,” he noted.

National POW/MIA [prisoner of war/missing in action] Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday in September. United States Congress authorized the first recognition July 18, 1979, after which it was held on various dates until 1986 when the current timing was approved.

This year veterans from VFW Post 3335 and AMVETS Post 33 [both in Jay], American Legion Post 10 in Livermore Falls, auxiliary members, members from United Bikers of Maine, state and local dignitaries and community members gathered on Saturday in expectation of a special guest speaker attending the observance.

Earlier this month Manter had indicated a representative from the Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency [DPAA] in Hawaii would be the guest speaker. It was the first visit to Maine by a member of that department.


Because the DPAA is currently assisting with the aftermath of the Maui wildfires, the visit has been postponed, Manter announced.

Rose Dyke of Canton places a wreath Saturday morning, Sept. 16, at the POW/MIA Monument in Jay during the National POW/MIA Recognition Day observance. Dyke’s brother, John Brooke of Bryant Pond is missing in action from the Vietnam War. Standing behind Dyke are VFW Post 3335 Auxiliary President Gail Dube and American Legion Post 10 Commander Jocelyn Mosher-Collins. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

At the memorial, wreaths were placed by Juanita Craft of Livermore, widow of Charles Craft who was a prisoner of war for 787 days in Vietnam and Rose Dyke of Canton, whose brother John Brooke of Bryant Pond is missing in action from the Vietnam War. Manter noted that John Nutting Jr. of Leeds, whose father John Nutting Sr. went missing during the Korean War and Susan White, great-niece of Zelwood Gravlin of Phillips, missing during World War II and repatriated home last November, couldn’t make the ceremony as had been planned.

Veterans, auxiliary members, officials and the community attend the first portion of the 32nd Annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day observance held Saturday morning, Sept. 16, at the POW/MIA Monument next to the Riley Road in Jay. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Following a 21-gun salute and taps, the ceremony adjourned to the VFW post.

Manter recognized the United Bikers of Maine taking part. “Their presence has significance,” he noted. “They ride 18 miles, symbolizing Maine’s 18 missing in action of the Vietnam era. They are here, every year, rain, or shine.”

The community should consider it a duty to come together, to show support and admiration for local friends and families who have sacrificed so much, Manter said.

“Until the last POW/MIA is returned, we will be their voice to let our nation know we have not forgotten them,” he stated.


David Richmond, director of Veterans’ Services, said it was really heartwarming to see how many community members turned out for the ceremony. He then read a letter from Gov. Janet Mills.

“Please note that I stand by your side as we honor the Americans still missing and unaccounted for from our nation’s wars,” she wrote. “Throughout our state’s history, dedicated people have shouldered our responsibility to protect our country, standing up to defend the precious freedoms we too often take for granted.”

John Dube of Jay, center, was presented a certificate of appreciation during the National POW/MIA Recognition Day observance Saturday morning, Sept. 16. Dube until recently planned the annual program and maintained the POW/MIA Monument located near the Riley Road in Jay. Seen at left is VFW Post 3335 Judge Adjutant James Manter of Livermore who has taken over those tasks and state Representative Sheila Lyman of Livermore Falls who presented the certificate. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

State Representative Sheila Lyman from Livermore Falls then presented a certificate of appreciation to John Dube of Jay for his years of dedication to maintaining the POW/MIA Memorial. “John’s unselfish loyalty and perseverance over the years serves as a model for others in the community,” she read from the certificate. “Without John’s leadership and commitment to detail, our community would not have such a proud location for honoring our State of Maine heroes.”

Dube said he was honored to be able to plan the program, care for the monument to fallen and missing comrades. Manter took over program planning three or four years ago, now the maintenance of the monument, Dube noted.

“I tried to find something wrong,” Dube said to laughter, then admitted he couldn’t find anything.

Manter then shared the story of Zelwood Gravlin and his recent repatriation. “Repatriated means simply this: an American MIA was found, identified, and returned home to his family,” he explained. “It is our honor this year to tell the story of Zelwood Gravlin, a “Mainer”. Born Aug. 28, 1921, Gravlin grew up in New Vineyard, attended schools in Phillips and Bethel, attending Gould Academy. He moved to Connecticut to work for the war effort in a factory. He enlisted June 16, 1942, in the Army Air Force, as it was known during World War II.


“On Aug. 1, 1943, Sgt. Gravlin … departed from Libya with his 10-man crew and joined 176 other B-24s for a dangerous 2,000-mile, daytime bombing mission … called Operation Tidal Wave. Of the 177 B-24 bombers taking off that day, only 167 made it to the target area. Only 88 of the 177 bombers would return to base. Gravlin’s plane was one of 51 bombers that failed to return.”

Manter noted 660 airmen died that day. “Operation Tidal Wave was the second largest single mission loss ever for our Air Force,” he said. “Gravlin was killed in action, and his remains were unaccounted for. Remains that could not be identified were eventually buried as “unknowns” in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Romania.

“Years later, the American Graves Registration Command moved all of the American remains that could not be identified and interred them at Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. Gravlin’s family never gave up hope of bringing Zelwood home. Last year, they got the word they were praying for. Utilizing the latest DNA technology, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency contacted Gravlin’s family on July 12, 2022, that it had finally identified Gravlin’s remains. Zelwood was repatriated to his family in Phillips last November.”

Susan White, his great-niece, thought the day would never come, Manter said. An interesting fact: she was contacted three or four years ago, told DNA was needed to identify what was thought to be Gravlin’s remains, he noted. She was the only one in the family they could find but she was one generation too late for her DNA to be used, he stated. She found an uncle, talked him into giving a sample, he died two years later, he added.

Jan and Tom Gill along with Spruce Mountain Middle School eighth grade student Elyssa Yanelli provided music before and during the ceremony. Yanelli sang several solos, including the veteran’s version of Hallelujah.

The community POW/MIA Memorial was dedicated in 1992 with a service held there every year since with members of United Bikers of Maine participating since 1993, Manter later said. The POW/MIA Memorial Bridge [which crosses the Androscoggin River on the Riley Road] was dedicated in 1987, he noted.

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