METUCHEN — Air Force Capt. Ned Herrold of New Brunswick has been missing since his plane was shot down along the coast of North Vietnam in 1966, according to The Virtual Wall, the website honoring the men and women named on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Department of Defense presumes Herrold is dead.
On Friday, Herrold and 44 other New Jersey military members believed to be prisoners of war or missing in action from the Vietnam War were remembered by members of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 233 during its annual POW/MIA 24-hour vigil at Metuchen Memorial Park.
A candle was lit in his honor and a simulated metal dog tag with his name was hung inside a bamboo cage, symbolic of the much smaller cages prisoners of war were kept in during the Vietnam War. Six other candles were lighted and dog tags hung during the ceremony, which will run through Saturday morning, when all 45 candles are lit and tags hung.
Al Miller, POW/MIA committee chair for Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 233 based in New Brunswick, said the vigil, which began more than 20 years ago, won’t stop until all those unaccounted for are back home.
Miller, a Navy veteran who served from 1967 to 1971, said of the 1,657 POWs/MIAs from the Vietnam War, 45 were from New Jersey, including Robert F. Scherdin of Somerville, Ronald Mayercik of Edison, John Joseph Foley of Plainfield, James Thomas Egan Jr. of Mountainside and Herrold.
There are 78,000 military members unaccounted for from World War II and 8,000 from the Korean War, including 168 from New Jersey, according to Miller.
Gov. Chris Christie also proclaimed Friday as “POW/MIA Recognition Day” throughout New Jersey.
Miller said he has had met Herrold’s sister at a POW conference.
“She’s still looking for answers,” he said.
Sept. 21 is designated as National POW/MIA Recognition Day to remember and honor Americans taken as prisoners of war or missing in action.
“For 22 years, a grateful nation has paused to remember those who fought and defended freedom abroad but have yet to return home to their country and families,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement released on Friday. “Those Americans who were prisoners of war, remain missing in action, or are unaccounted for, serve as a powerful reminder of the depth of sacrifice and strength of character of the men and women who voluntarily serve our nation.
“We also recognize those family members and communities that have held out hope for their loved one in the service — days like today remind us of the debt of gratitude and appreciation we owe to them and their families. I encourage New Jerseyans to take a moment today to offer thoughts and prayers for those Americans whom have not been returned to us.”
In a prayer read by Walter Zjawin, commander of American Legion Post 65, he said POWs and MIAs are remembered each night and day, even through their whereabouts are unknown.
“Though much time has passed as others’ hopes are dashed, we love them and miss them,” he said. “Our hopes forever hold fast. We think of their plight, what they must have faced, hold steadfast until we find one small trace. We know they are out there, help us stay strong; we will never forget, nor will we rest. Family, friends and comrades in arms, we all gather in prayer this day, until they are brought home, please no further delay.
“Lord, we honor those families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Each now deserves to know what happened to their loved ones. Today, we recommit ourselves to doing whatever is necessary to account for each patriot who has not been returned to the soil of his birth. A grateful nation stands by, ready to receive them one day.”
Joseph Formola of the Colonia section of Woodbridge, state chaplain for Vietnam Veterans of America, prayed to keep the flame burning so the beacon of welcome will never go out for those listed as POWs and MIAs.
He also offered prayers for Gold Star Mothers, women who have buried their children who died in service to their country.
Leonard “Handsome” Jackson of Middlesex Borough, an Army veteran who served from 1968 to 1969, participated in the ceremony by lighting a candle and hanging a dog tag for one of the 45 New Jersey residents who has yet to return home from the Vietnam War.
Jackson, who was joined at the ceremony by his friend, Joe “Ski” Kordzikowski, of Bridgewater, also an Army veteran, said bringing an MIA back home is a long, involved process.
While the 24-hour vigil is conducted to raise awareness, only about 25 people attended the opening ceremony.
“Less and less people show up every year,” said Betty Hixon of Dunellen. “It’s sad. I don’t think they care. It would be nice if we could get school kids from a history class.”
Charles Susino, a World War II former POW and commander of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, is scheduled to lead the closing ceremonies starting at 10 a.m. Saturday. The closing ceremony also is scheduled to featured honored guest POWs from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps League Color Guard and the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department.