Monday, December 9, 2013
From staff and news services
OLD ORCHARD BEACH – A pair of Vietnam veterans who hadn't seen each other since the day one of them was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese have been reunited after 44 years.
On behalf on her late husband, Lawrence Hayer, Loretta Hayer of Westbrook accepts a medal and certificate from Peter Ogden, director of veterans services in Maine, at the POW/MIA Recognition Weekend at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach on Saturday. Master Sgt. Hayer served in the Army during World War II and was a prisoner of war in Europe.
Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Wayne Sapiel of Jay checks out the cockpit of a U.S. Army Cobra attack helicopter at the POW/MIA Recognition Weekend at The BallPark in Old Orchard Beach on Saturday. Sapiel served two tours in Vietnam with the Army in 1967 and 1968.
Russ Warriner hadn't seen pilot Michael O'Connor since that fateful day, Feb. 4, 1968. Warriner was crew chief on a helicopter that was out of service, so he wasn't with O'Connor on the chopper that was downed, and didn't see him again.
Warriner and several other members of the same unit were reunited with O'Connor at the Portland International Jetport before the POW/MIA Recognition Weekend got under way.
"He was so shocked to see so many of the guys greet him that tears were starting to run down his cheeks," Warriner said. "It was awesome."
O'Connor, who flew in from California for the event, evaded capture for a day-and-a-half before being taken prisoner. The men served together in the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery (ARA) 1st Calvary Division.
The event, which began Friday, will continue through Sunday at The Ballpark. Warriner, from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7997, was serving as event organizer.
The event featured veteran exhibits such as a banner with the names of the 559 Mainers still missing in action as well as a Cobra helicopter trucked in from South Carolina by the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
The rocket-armed helicopter aboard which Warriner served as crew chief in Vietnam was driven up to Maine by Larry Russell, executive director of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation of Columbia, S.C., which owns the aircraft.
Russell, who was shot down three times in Vietnam, flew the Cobra helicopter.
Warriner, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, said getting involved in veterans groups and reconnecting with old friends has helped him to heal his wounds. He said many friends didn't make it back home, and Warriner himself had several close calls, including an engine failure in a helicopter in Vietnam.
"The POW issue has been part of my life since 1968," Warriner told the Journal Tribune, acknowledging guilt that he feels about missing the mission on which O'Connor's helicopter went down.
The weekend drew many local veterans.
"Anything military I am interested in," said George Doody of Saco, a former Marine.
Doody said he was so impressed he was headed out to pick up his great-grandson and bring him to the event.
Alan Graves of Old Orchard Beach, who served with the U.S. Coast Guard in Vietnam, said he was there to support his fellow veterans. "And see a lot of old friends," said Graves.
Michelle Hotchkiss of Old Orchard Beach said the weekend was a way to show her appreciation for her father, who fought in World War II. It was also a treat for her grandson, Matthew D. Laughton.
"My grandson is obsessed with Army guys," she said.
The observance continues at 9 a.m. Sunday at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, with memorial services followed by a ball game at 1 p.m. All are welcome.