As we celebrate the month of July with barbeques and fireworks, we must remember that our freedom comes at a high price paid for by those brave
servicemen and women who answered the call. Some return from war different from when they began their journey, some perished and some remained missing in action.
Since the first World War, 91,000 soldiers remain unaccounted for. During Operation Homecoming after the Vietnam War, 1,200 POWs were expected back—only 570 returned.
One decorated Vietnam veteran, a Marine, has made it his mission to help families find closure and to make sure the rest of the country does not forget about our MIA/POWs. Standing in the ceremonial hall of the county executive building with veterans and County Executive Ed Mangano looking on, Paul Masi of Bethpage wiped away a tear as he stood tall in his uniform with a chest full of medals, recounting stories of fellow soldiers who had gone missing. Using his own funds, he purchased a Chair of Honor from the Hussey Seating Company of Maine, which will remain in the ceremonial hall as a reminder for all of those soldiers who never came home.
“This idea came to me from my friend Patrick Hughes, a Vietnam veteran and a national photographer for Rolling Thunder, which is a veteran’s organization that does a ride to the wall [Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.] the day before Memorial Day,” said Masi, who served 14 months in Vietnam and is the past president of Chapter 82 Nassau County Vietnam Veterans of America and chairs the POW/MIA committee. “People come from around the country and ride from the Pentagon to the wall to bring awareness of those MIA/POWs.”
Joe D’Entremont, a locksmith from Boston who is the president of the Massachusetts chapter and a member of Rolling Thunder, worked in conjunction with Hussey Seating and had the first Chair of Honor dedicated in Boston in 2012 at Gillette Stadium, home to more than 68,000 Hussey seats. The chair is also in Dover, DE, where NASCAR holds races and a few weeks ago, a Chair of Honor was dedicated at Citizens Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies play.
The Chair of Honor Program is intended to support POW/MIA by bringing daily reminders of the issue to cities and towns across the nation. A POW/MIA chair is to remain perpetually empty to help people remember that even though our soldiers are not here, there is still a space for them. The goal is to have these chairs at all sports stadiums throughout the country. Masi thought it was a great idea and contacted Mangano and made arrangements to bring one to the ceremonial hall and hopefully in the future to the new Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.
Mangano had high praise for Masi and his commitment to POW/MIA issues.
“I have known Paul Masi for many years growing up in Bethpage,” said Mangano. “He was a very active, community-minded person, but most importantly he served as a U.S. Marine. I knew him when he returned from war and his mission and quest in life has been to return every POW and MIA. He is dedicated and passionate about it and we are proud that we have a person like Paul Masi dedicating his efforts to remember every POW and MIA and not rest until everyone is returned to our country.”
Masi’s goal is to bring this Chair of Honor to other parts of Nassau County.
“This chair will be a reminder, as is the wall in Washington, of all who served and died, maybe missing, that were shot down over water or held as prisoners of war in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, who went into harm’s way to serve and protect our nation and they did not return,” said Masi. “This chair will be that reminder that many will still serve and this nation can’t forget. We would not be the nation we are today without the sacrifice of these men and women. This is important because freedom is not free. We enjoy all of our freedoms here because of all of those who are serving did serve and those who will serve in the future. People have to understand that the world is a dangerous place. There are people who do not like us and it is very sad, but we have to protect our nation and continue to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”