MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Just as Arlene Berdahl, mother of Army Pvt. 1st Class David Berdahl, was to speak at Minot Air Force Base's National POW/MIA Recognition Day service, a lone B-52 bomber made a flyby.
"And that's freedom," she said, pointing to the big bomber as its noise subsided, and speaking to those gathered in the Bud Ebert Park on base Friday morning.
Arlene, along with her family, were guests at the base Friday for the recognition day. Her son, David, has been missing in action in Vietnam for 40 years.
Charles Routledge, left, a World War II veteran from Glenburn now living in Minot, and others stand for the National Anthem during Minot Air Force Base’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day Friday.
The message of the POW/MIA slogan,"Gone, but not forgotten," was pointed out in the program.
Chaplain William D. Logan, read a poem, pointing out the cost of freedom and other items, with verses ending with "one American life."
Arnie Havelka, district commander of the American Legion for several counties and guest speaker at the recognition day, said most people attending the program know what POW/MIA stands for prisoner of war and missing in action. But, he said, it's surprising how many people don't know what it really means. He suggested that people in the audience explain it if someone doesn't know.
POW/MIA Recognition Day originated in 1971 with a service member's wife, Havelka said.
Havelka said the special day went on to be created by a former military member whose son is the black-and-white silhouette on the POW/MIA flag. Havelka indicated the nearby POW/MIA flag flying by the U.S. flag on the platform where he was standing. The words on the POW/MIA flag say, "You Are Not Forgotten," Havelka said.
Near the flags was the POW/MIA Missing Man Table, a table with a white tablecloth covering it, a red rose in a vase and other items symbolizing those who are missing.
"The American list of missing consists of more than 83,000 Americans. That's a lot," Havelka said.
Of the 83,000, he said 73,000 are from World War II, 8,000 from Korea, slightly more than 1,600 Vietnam, 120 from Cold War, and one from each Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said some of those in the audience that day may not have had the horrors of being a prisoner of war.
Havelka noted a former POW, Art Linrud, of Minot, died two weeks ago. When talking with Linrud, Havelka told the crowd he asked Linrud what was one of the things he thought about all the time when he was a POW. Linrud told him, "I always thought of my family from North Dakota. I knew I was going to make it sooner or later."
Havelka said Linrud was released. When he was released it was in the middle of the winter and they had to travel more than 100 miles over a mountain to get to where they needed to go. Linrud told Havelka that times were rough, times were hard but the POWs knew they were coming home.
Havelka said Air Force 1st Lt. Ray Fletcher, an airman who was lost during World War II, was brought home last month. "He was buried with full military honors," Havelka said.
"We always wonder who will be found next," Havelka said.
"Here in Minot we have a mother, brothers and sisters that have their oldest son, their oldest brother missing in action while in Vietnam.
He said Arlene Berdahl, told him her son, David Berdahl, wanted to go in the military already when he was under 18 but his parents didn't let him go. However, when he turned 18, he joined.
Just a few days after David's 19th birthday, Havelka said, he was on a search-and-rescue mission in Vietnam and the helicopter that he was in was hit by enemy fire, crashed and burned.
David has been missing for 40 years.
"But, as we talked about, he will never be forgotten," Havelka said.
After the B-52 bomber passed over the area, Arlene, 86, told the audience, "It's an honor to be here today to honor all the POWs, all the MIAs and especially my son David."
"He would be so proud of this. I've waited 40 years to be part of this recognition and I would like to thank the Minot Air Force Base, the American Legion Post 26 and the Ladies Auxiliary and The Minot Daily News," she said.
She elaborated in thanking the base "for all the things that they have done for me and my family, and during the flood for what they have done for the people in Minot."
Master Sgt. Michael Shelley, division trustee of the Air Force Sergeants Association at the base, said the organization will be donating $50 in David Berdahl's name and $50 in guest speaker Arnie Havelka's name to the Airmen Memorial Museum in the Washington, D.C., area.
"To all our heroes still missing or unaccounted for, you will never be forgotten," Havelka said.
He said that every day when someone is deployed somewhere, they never know what will happen and if they will come back. "When you see somebody leave, give them that big hug... just let them know they are not forgotten and always loved."
The base's observance of POW/MIA Day included a 24-hour run, concluding this morning, to symbolize the pain endured by the POWs and MIAs. The Friday activities ended with reading the MIA/POW names and a fireworks display.