By MADDY VITALE
Retired U.S. Air Force Capt. Ralph Galati does not consider what he did as brave, or noble, or courageous when he served in Vietnam and endured 14 months as a Prisoner of War in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
“It was not at all brave,” Galati, of Wallingford, Pa., told a crowd Friday during a ceremony honoring POWs and those missing in action. “It was performing a duty with dignity and returning home with honor.”
He spoke at Sea Isle City’s POW-MIA Recognition Day held at Veterans Park. During the ceremony, a “Chair of Honor” was unveiled, to provide a place that acts as a permanent reminder of the tens of thousands of U.S. military men and women who remain missing in action from wars beginning with World War I to the present day.
Currently, there are 81,000 unaccounted for military men and women.
Galati spoke of the freedoms he does not take lightly. He spoke of the songs that kept him going during the time he was a POW.
“God Bless America,” and “The National Anthem,” were among the songs he and fellow POWs sang.
“We had our songs,” he said, noting the significance of the moment with the American flag flying behind him while standing at the monument. “We fought bravely and will not take these symbols for granted.”
There was loneliness. There was starvation. There was endurance.
“Our mission, we never forgot. Resist and return home with integrity and dignity,” he said.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio “We gather to acknowledge and remember the military members who served and also to remember prisoners of war and those who went missing and never came home,” Desiderio said in opening remarks.
He continued, “Sadly, war brings with it death and heartache and great sadness. It also results in anguish from families who will never learn what happened and the suffering of those Prisoners of War.”
VFW Post Commander Mark Lloyd spoke of how the Chair of Honor pays respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and also provides some comfort to the families of those who never returned.
“The pains of war are brutal. The physical and mental scars are lasting. I can only imagine; these are nothing compared to living with the unknown fate of a loved one,” he said. “Worse yet, I cannot even conceive the thought of those who are captive. Wondering if help is on the way, hoping to once again enjoy freedom.”
Lloyd continued, “We are their hope, we are their freedom. We must be relentless in the pursuit of accountability for their existence or demise we must get closure for the loved ones.”
Also in attendance was Patrick Hughes, a lance corporal in the Marines during the Vietnam War who is now the national photographer for Rolling Thunder, Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to bring accountability for America’s POWs and those missing in action.
Joe Griffies, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and a veterans advocate, spoke of the importance of remembering those missing in action and POWs, as well as other veterans, for their sacrifices.
Dignitaries state Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, who both represent the First Legislative District, spoke of what an honor it is to be in attendance, and to recognize Capt. Galati.
Testa said that he was “choked up” by the city’s decision to place a chair in the park to be a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by those missing in action and prisoners of war.
“What a testament to this community,” Testa said.
He, along with McClellan, recognized Galati for his service with a joined legislative commendation.
Retired Marine Lt. Joe Walters who fought in Vietnam, of Upper Township, who lost his leg while serving, was recognized during the program.
Two Gold Star Mothers, Judy Faunce, of Wilmington, Del., whose son, Army Cpt. Brian Faunce died in Iraq in 2003, and Lisa Marie Brunner, of South Hampton, whose son, Navy En3 Benjamin Allan Brunner died on Feb. 6, 2019, were also honored.
Brunner said after the program that her son, who died in a motorcycle accident, on the way back to his Navy ship, loved serving his country.
“He was so brave. There was nothing he wanted to do more than serve,” she said.
It is that thought, that knowledge she has, that keeps her going every day to continue to keep her son’s memory alive.