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Ceremony marks start of POW-MIA memorial

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Dozens of veterans showed up Friday morning to celebrate the laying of the first stone at Vancouver's new memorial to prisoners of war and military personnel who went missing in action.

The memorial will sit on the front lawn of the Armed Forces Reserve Center at 15005 N.E. 65th St. in east Vancouver. Work crews poured the concrete foundation of the flagpole plaza last year, but they're just getting started on crafting the focal point of their new tribute.

Over the next several months, crews will construct a two-sided rock column made from local basalt on one side of the walkway. It will stand nearly eight feet tall, and in the center, they will place a plaque with the POW/MIA symbol on that first stone they laid Friday morning.

The stone is about 24 inches by 20 inches by 18 inches, said the memorial's architect, Kelly Punteney, a longtime landscape design specialist known for his work on Southwest Washington parks and trails.

"This is the first stone of many," Punteney said after two burly men carefully lifted it off a wheeled cart. "Very simple, very clean, beautiful stone. I'm really excited to get it in here and see the character that these stones will have.

"The rock column will be framed by brick benches on each side, Punteney said. A few feet away, hundreds of engraved bricks honoring military personnel will also be placed in the ground around the rim of the pavilion.

The cost for the project sits at about $20,000, and it's partially funded by the Anna C. MacAskill Schwab and Dwight L. Schwab Sr. Charitable Fund. The work will wrap up by September, in time for National POW/MIA Day, when the group plans to hold another ceremony to commemorate the finished product, Punteney said.

When it's done, the memorial will offer a fitting setting for speeches at veteran ceremonies, he said."You could set a podium right here," Punteney said. "We could have programs with this backdrop of beautiful rocks from Clark County."

Punteney said in his trips to Washington, D.C., he's noticed a trend of simplicity in war monuments. He hoped to mirror that concept in his design of the new memorial.

Several other memorials to American service personnel stand in and around Vancouver, but this will be the first at the Reserve Center. And none of the others are quite like this, Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith said.

"It gives us a place really, certainly every September, to come here and recognize POWs," said Smith, an Army veteran who co-chairs the Community Military Appreciation Committee.

Several veterans spoke at the ceremony, sharing their appreciation and enthusiasm for the new memorial. Smith shared the story behind the creation of the POW/MIA flag. At one point, he paused to recognize a local prisoner of war in attendance: Dale Bowlin, an 89-year-old Army veteran who was wounded and captured by German troops in World War II.

Smith said the memorial will serve as a sanctuary and gathering place for people like Bowlin and anyone else in the Vancouver area with ties to the POW/MIA community.
 

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