A table, a chair and a flag refocus attention on those missing in action

  • Rolling Thunder member Richard Caruso of Allenstown with the Missing Man Chair which he and his wife Patricia will brint to the Town Hall on Monday.night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rolling Thunder members Patricia and Richard Caruso of Allenstown will bring the Missing Man Chair to the Town Hall on Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rolling Thunder members Patricia and Richard Caruso of Allenstown will bring the Missing Man Chair to the Town Hall on Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Rolling Thunder member Richard Caruso of Allenstown with the Missing Man Chair which he and his wife Patricia will brint to the Town Hall on Monday.night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/1/2021 12:00:18 PM

Rolling Thunder is spreading its message, using a table, a chair and a flag.

The items whisper loss and darkness, displaying and representing a six-letter acronym that remains universally recognized: POW/MIA. Groups like Rolling Thunder want to make sure those capital letters, divided by a slash, forever pack a wallop.

The mission? Do anything and everything to make life easier for families whose children went to war and never came home.

Rolling Thunder members Patricia and Richard Caruso of Allenstown will bring what’s called the Missing Man Chair to their Town Hall on Monday.

For good. This is no quick, limited tribute. In fact, this is a three-pronged effort to embrace these lost men and hold onto them.

On May 15, Flags for Forgotten Heroes, with the blessing of Rolling Thunder, will plant flags at the Allenstown Police Department and address one of the toughest subjects on the planet: Death by suicide among veterans.

A week later, on May 22, Rolling Thunder – a national non-profit with chapters across the country – returns to the stage with the annual raising of the POW flag and a motorcycle ride through Allenstown and Pembroke, delivering more POW flags to local businesses that have agreed to display them.

“Most of our members are Vietnam veterans who have left friends behind, and it affects them, and so many people don’t understand,” Richard said. “There needs to be an accounting of all involved.”

Maybe these displays – circulating around the state as part of an all-out blitz to bring the topic to federal lawmakers – will lead to improved methods to find fallen soldiers overseas and bring their remains home. Or maybe determine the location where someone died. Maybe a battle name. Maybe some closure.

“Every generation that goes by, it is no longer affecting anyone,” Richard said, referring to POWs who fade from view. “We have to have a better presence and get the flags flying so we are noticed.”

That’s the idea. To be noticed. To be heard. Town offices across the state have already agreed to display the MIA/POW table in their lobbies. A dinner plate, silverware and a rose sit patiently, waiting for the diner, who is so far away.

Smaller spaces receive only the chair. It’s meant to bring an uncomfortable issue up front. It will display the POW/MIA flag, the words, “You Are Not Forgotten,” and other words that say, “Since World War II, more than 81,000 U.S. service personnel are unaccounted for.”

The number is staggering. The empty chair holds an unseen layer of hopelessness that hits hard.

The flag is chilling, with its distinct black silhouette of a soldier, barbed wire behind him, guard tower off in the distance.

It’s the mobile symbol, the one riders take with them, to Allenstown and Washington, D.C. They pressure the government to locate those who were never found, hoping a lawmaker will enact legislation to step up the effort, make it a priority.

They believe modern technology might help in some of these cases. They think negotiations should play a bigger role in the future.

“We want to get more information out there and get more people involved in this,” Patricia said. “They could learn in school, they could carry it forward, or pass the word for people to act on it.”

Said Richard, “Regardless of how you feel about politics and war, if you will send our people somewhere for a war, you might as well work to bring them home.”

Richard and Patricia acknowledged that as time goes by the mission becomes more difficult.

But each time NH Chapter 1 President Jon Dion successfully reaches an agreement with a town hall or business to display a POW/MIA-related symbol, the tributes and appreciation grow. Justice, in some small way, is served with each mention of each missing man.

In fact, Patricia said she hopes a deal will be made next week to bring the Missing Man Chair to Pembroke’s Town Hall.

“Educate the public that many were left behind,” Dion said “and the government does not do enough to bring them back, or find out what happened. That is our mission. Never to forget.”

Richard teared up during our interview. He’s a contract writer at Hanscom Air Force base in Bedford, Mass. He sees a lot of veterans at work who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said he receives one of the first calls revealing that someone, yet again, has died by suicide.

“Oh good lord, at the end of the day, someone will die,” Richard said. “Veterans suicide is horrific. I’ve been to 15 funerals in 15 years.”

Addressing suicide among veterans is the brainchild of Flags for Forgotten Heroes. Rolling Thunder will allow the group to borrow some of its momentum during the middle of the three Allenstown tributes.

On May 15, in front of the Allenstown Police Department, the group will plant 660 American flags. On average, the group says, that’s how many veterans die by suicide each month. The hope is that this massive sea of flags attracts some attention.

“People can stop and look at it and learn,” Patricia said. “They can learn to help care for one another, and they can learn to speak to someone who is thinking of taking their own life.”

Patricia said schools were leery when approached about displaying one of the three symbols. Even adults don’t want to absorb the realities of our history, never mind kids.

Thousands were killed on the battlefield and left there, in cold anonymity, never found, never recognized for service, never given a final resting place, somewhere near home.

“There is a desire to protect the innocence of children, so they tread lightly,” Patricia said. “The issues involved with POWs is not a pretty topic. It’s pretty dire.”

Sports stadiums like Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, plus major Boston arenas, now carry a combination of POW/MIA items.

The table, the chair, the flag.

“We want people to walk by,” Dion said. “We want them to see the chair. We want them to ask, ‘What is that chair?’ ”




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