National D-Day Memorial pays tribute to POWs, MIAs at annual event

Local News

The National D-Day Memorial hosted a ceremony on Saturday to pay tribute to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.  

“Sometimes, as you’re a prisoner of war, you look down the tunnel of life, and you figure it’s not worth the effort to strive to live,” said Robert Gray, a veteran who addressed the crowd. 

For Gray, Saturday’s ceremony was deeply personal.

“Out of the six to be captured, only three of us survived the prisoner of war camp,” he said. 

Gray was captured while serving in Korea in 1950. During the ceremony, he shared his story of living in a POW camp for nearly three years.

“Dying is easier than living,” Gray said. “How come I survived? I don’t know. Some say, ‘Was it the country boy who’d been used to farming or the city boy?’ I can’t say that’s true. You didn’t know which one.”

“It’s just very important to us to bring that kind of awareness to people,” said April Cheek-Messier, president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. “And this year was particularly special because we are launching our Gold Star Families Memorial Monument’s project.”

Rolling Thunder hosted a benefit ride from Lynchburg Harley Davidson to the memorial, raising $2,600 for the planned Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, according to organization leaders.

The monument, which would be located on the grounds of the National D-Day Memorial, would be the first one in Virginia dedicated to Gold Star Families, Cheek-Messier said. 

“We care,” said Larry Fink of Rolling Thunder. “You don’t have to be a veteran. You don’t have to have a motorcycle. You just have to care about our veterans.”

“Lou Gehrig was a great baseball player – he said just before he died he felt that he was one of the luckiest guys on Earth,” Gray said. “So that’s the way I feel.

The National D-Day Memorial plans to dedicate the new monument for Gold Star Families next Memorial Day, Cheek-Messier said. The memorial is about halfway towards its fundraising goal of $250,000, she added.

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