Former POWs honored at ceremony
As Herman "Herk" Streitburger rose to speak at the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery on Saturday, an audience of about 60 people, among them several of his fellow former prisoners of war, gave him a standing ovation.
Streitburger, the keynote speaker at the American Ex-POW Recognition Day ceremony in the cemetery's chapel, told the story of Mike Christian's American Flag, describing a U.S. soldier who fashioned an American flag out of pieces of cloth found on the grounds of a North Vietnamese prison camp.
"When they found his flag, the guards took him to their torture chamber and beat the heck out of him. He was almost dead, but a few days later, he started another flag," Streitburger said. "I feel like all the POWs here are comrades and have that same spirit."
The ceremony was sponsored by the N.H. Veterans of Foreign Wars, the N.H. Ladies Auxiliary VFW and the N.H. Chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War. Many veterans wiped away tears as the speakers paid them tribute and the national anthem and "America the Beautiful'' were sung.
"It's an emotional situation," Streitburger said later.
"When we started getting together many years ago, many didn't want to talk about (their imprisonment). And then when we started talking about it, all the emotions came out. But it's still very emotional to talk about."
He added: "With POWs, it really takes one to know one. Nobody quite understands."
All those in attendance expressed lots of appreciation for what veterans, and particularly prisoners of war, have done for the country and the state.
A memorial wreath was decorated and ready to be placed at the cemetery's monument to prisoners of war.
Maj. Gen. William N. Riddell, the adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard, said the day was a tribute to "those who have not come back and those we continue to search for."
The ceremony was specifically dedicated to Allan Gavan, who, like Streitburger, was held in a Nazi prison camp during World War II. Gavan, of Moultonborough, died on March 14, just days after one of his recent projects - acquiring Purple Heart medals for 60 soldiers from the state who died as POWs in World War II and Korea - was completed.
"We found the 60th POW just before we lost him," said Gavan's daughter Kathleen Ingmundson, who was honored at the ceremony along with another of his daughters, Sheila Gavan.
Tom Hassan, who represented his wife, Gov. Maggie Hassan, told those assembled that "our country and our state are better because of you."
"We pay tribute to those who gave their freedom to protect our own," Hassan said.