Veterans on cross-country ride to raise awareness to JPAC problems
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 20, 2014
Some veterans are using their motorcycles to make noise about deficiencies in the POW/MIA accounting system.
The Run for the Wall — an annual coast-to-coast motorcycle ride — started last week in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and ends in the nation’s capital Saturday. Organizers say its purpose is to help veterans heal and call attention to servicemembers left behind from America’s past wars.
This year, the riders are carrying letters and pictures honoring Army Pfc. Lawrence Gordon, who was killed in France in World War II. French examiners identified his remains in February, after the U.S. Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command declined perform the testing.
The riders will stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before heading to the National World War II Memorial on Saturday to honor Gordon, whose nephew, also named Lawrence Gordon, will be on hand.
The group will cap its ride by participating in the “Rolling Thunder” display throughout the capital that could draw thousands of veteran motorcycle enthusiasts.
“We’re going to send people off to war, and we’re willing to go, but all we ask is, bring us home,” said Les Williams, a retired Marine Corps colonel and leader of one of the ride’s “platoons.” “The more I learn about the story with Gordon, the more I think, ‘What have we really become?’”
After a series of scandals at JPAC — ranging from mishandling of remains to fraudulent repatriation ceremonies — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an overhaul of the agency in February. However, no concrete plans have been released yet, and families have criticized the efforts as lip service.
Gordon’s nephew, along with filmmaker Jed Henry, who led efforts to identify Gordon’s remains, will hold a POW-MIA Awareness Conference at the National Press Club on Friday. Henry, who has been very vocal about his frustrations in trying to work with the POW/MIA accounting agencies, said they have been scrambling to save face and get involved since the identification was made.
“I don’t think the POW/MIA mission is a mission at all,” Henry said. “It’s a public relations campaign to get young boys to join the service.”
Gordon was killed Aug. 13, 1944, in an M8 armored car that was struck by a German anti-tank shell near Carrouges, France. His remains were first interred in an American cemetery as “unknown” even though his bloody wallet was sent home to his family and the man killed next to him was identified. The remains were later exhumed and reburied in a German cemetery.
Henry began looking into the case in 2011 while shooting a documentary about his grandfather, who was in Gordon’s company.
Gordon’s family has said he will be buried next to family in Saskatchewan, Canada, on the 70th anniversary of his death. Williams said he and about 75 other veterans plan on making the trip to see Gordon finally laid to rest.
“We’re going to make a lot of noise,” Williams said of the ride on the capital. “We want to wake up Congress.”