County Fare: Lee Library hosting Chair of Honor
A black, padded folding chair with the POW/MIA logo flanked by the American and Massachusetts flags will be on display -- and unused -- for the next week or two at the Lee Library.
Lee is the second stop for the Chair of Honor, which is continuously empty signifying the 91,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors unaccounted for since World War I.
Donated by the Massachusetts Chapter of Rolling Thunder Inc., the chair began its tour Memorial Day weekend at Lenox Town Hall, the location of state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli’s district office.
Lenox was the home of Navy pilot WIlliam "Billy" Coakley, shot down over North Vietnam in September 1966 and missing in action until his body was identified and buried at St. Ann’s cemetery in 1989.
"From my office, I would see people pause for a moment and read the inscription," Pignatelli said. "It’s a simple symbol but powerful gesture of the sacrifice people have made."
A staunch supporter of veterans, Pignatelli is planning to have the chair make a stop in all 20 towns in his 4th Berkshire District by Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
The Vietnam War raised awareness of the POW/MIA issue, with 2,646 servicemen initially unaccounted for when the war ended in 1973. As of April 2013, that figure has dropped to 1,649.
"With the countryside we were dealing with, I’m surprised we didn’t have more [MIAs]," said Army veteran John Davidson of Lee, who served a 13-month tour in Vietnam.
U.S. Marine Cpl. William Straub, who recently returned from Afghanistan, was presented with a Challenge Coin in Dalton on Monday night by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, according to Arnold Perras, commander of VFW Post 448 in Pittsfield.
"He was well received with police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances with sirens screaming and lights flashing," Perras said, "but more importantly, many grateful citizens lined the street waving American flags to honor him and others that did not return."
He said the VFW’s Dick Kurek, and American Legion’s Skip Hoskier joined him in reading the words printed on the Challenge Coin aloud.
The front of the coin reads: "VFW Welcomes You Home."
The reverse reads: "SERVICE-SACRIFICE," then "You took freedom to distant lands and gave hope to a world oppressed" and "We Will Not Forget."
Mary Verdi also sang a new song to welcome the veteran home.
"We rendered a salute in unison and then shook his hand to welcome him home," Perras said. "I wish more of our comrades could attend these once in a lifetime events. It is so much better [now] than what others had as a very ungrateful experience upon returning from combat zones."
The public is invited at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday to attend a graduation ceremony and celebration for members of the program "Business 101: Spot-On-Cleaning" to be held at the Goodwill, 158 Tyler St., in Pittsfield.
Business 101: Spot-On Cleaning is a 15-week custodial training program. Enrollment is now open for the next session of the program, which begins in July.
Goodwill’s tuition-free classes are available to those with barriers to work including the working poor, those with disabilities, those lacking a high school diploma or GED, dislocated individuals and families, ex-offenders, older workers, at-risk youth, non-English speakers and veterans.
Information/registration: Goodwill Employment Programming Manager Kathy Anker at (413) 442-0061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
County Fare, a weekly column featuring "tales from throughout the Berkshires," is compiled by Eagle staffers.
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