First Lieutenant Joseph Angelo Cestare was only 25 and had a blue convertible and fiancée back home. His aircraft crashed during a search-and-destroy mission in South Vietnam and, like Bartocci, his body was never recovered.
Captain Robert Wistrand was a pilot whose aircraft crashed over Laos in 1965. Since then, he has been classified as missing in action.
These men were just three of the 37 Vietnam War POW-MIA’s from New York City whose names were read on Friday night at a ceremony in Maspeth Memorial Park. After each name was read, a member of the Coastal Patrol Cadet Corps rang a bell in remembrance and lit a candle so they would not be forgotten.
“A flame is a delicate thing, easily extinguished, susceptible to breezes and in need of fuel to survive,” said Paul Narson, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32. “On behalf of this nation we have answered this call. On behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32, we dedicate ourselves again to keep this flame alive.”
As part of the ceremony on Friday, a table with a white cloth and single rose was set for an empty chair to symbolize those men who never made it home.
After the war, the U.S. listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and roughly 1,200 Americans who were killed in action and whose bodies were never recovered. By the early 1990s, the number of those unaccounted for had been reduced to a total of 2,255.
For nearly 20 years, Chapter 32 has held a candlelight memorial service on POW-MIA Recognition Day, the third Friday in September, to remember Pfc. Charles L. Young, 1st Lt. Peter J. Russell, 1st Lt. Eugene M. Pabst and the more than 2,000 others still unaccounted for.
Hess-Miller Funeral Home and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank are two of the local businesses that help make the event happen.
As the ceremony concluded, the Cadet Corps played “Taps” and “God Bless America.” Afterwards Narson pledged the ceremony would survive as long as the chapter.
“The pain lingers still as we seek an answer to our questions,” Narson said. “On this day we know only one thing, they are not here.”
Former City Comptroller John Liu attended the event, as he has done for many years. “Chapter 32 holds this very special occasion,” he said, “so that the flame never goes out.”
Also in attendance was Korean War veteran Italo Sgaraglia, who was thinking about the friends he lost long ago.
“I think of buddies of mine often,” he said. “They could still be alive, but they are not here with us.”