Organizers hope to pack the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium on Saturday for what could become an annual occasion to honor former prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action during combat.
After months of planning, a new patriotic organization called the Marin Alliance for the American Spirit will lead a tribute to POWs and MIAs who sometimes get overlooked.
Retired Navy Commander John Sammons, treasurer of the Military Officers Association of America's Marin chapter, said, "We hope there will be lots of uniforms on display, and we'll make it family friendly. We'd like to see people bring their kids, have some pizza at the reception and learn more about the sacrifices that have been made. We want to fill that auditorium."
The event is to run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Civic Center's main hall. The program is to include a color guard, patriotic music, an aircraft flyover, military vehicles on display, recognition of the former POWs and those missing in action, acknowledgement of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a hosted reception with refreshments.
Tomas Kaselionis, a U.S. Coast Guard reservist from Novato and a vice president for the Marin Alliance for the American Spirit, said there are about 1,600 men and women who were unaccounted for during the Vietnam War plus many more who were detained or lost in other wars, including the Cold War.
"This is something I have a great passion for — assistance and recognition of our veterans," said Kaselionis, whose father served during the Vietnam War. "We have a lot of former service members who live here — something like 18,000 — and this was a place so critical during the Pacific theater (of World War II). ... It's important for the generation that does remember Vietnam, when people went and sacrificed, some voluntarily and some involuntarily, and many were not brought home. We hope people understand that sacrifice and that it shouldn't happen without acknowledgement."
Sammons said the need for such an event — which will be funded by the County of Marin and several major donors — becomes more obvious the more people learn from residents who were detained by enemies during wartime. The Korean War and Vietnam War veteran said he has many friends who were POWs.
"This is kind of significant to me, especially when you think about how many people are still missing, going all the way back through the years," he said. "This will be an overdue tribute."
The Marin Alliance for the American Spirit plans to "develop and present educational and informational programs that will foster patriotism and a sense of community." It lists its board members as Keith Woodcock (president), Kaselionis (VP, governmental relations), Felicia Gaston (VP, public relations), Patrick Carlin (VP, treasurer) and Julie Chrisman (VP, secretary). The group is actively seeking members. For more information about the MAAS, call 800-438-8988.
See the attached flier for more information about the event.