As speakers took to the podium one by one to pay tribute to all POW/MIA service members, a special guest in the audience was preparing to deliver some positive news.
Fulton native born and raised, Cpl. Greg Harris was stationed with a South Vietnamese company operating in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam as a Marine Corps radioman.
On June 12, 1966, Harris was captured by enemy forces, said to be seen alive and uninjured.
Each day for the next 52 years, Harris’ family has searched for him, for answers, for peace.
And Fulton has not forgotten their hometown hero. A tree of remembrance was planted at Veterans Park in his honor with a memorial plaque honoring Cpl. Greg Harris.
“It means the world to us that even after 52 years Greg is still remembered,” Harris’ cousin, Mary Ann Reitano said.
Just one-week-old when Harris was captured, his case has been a part of her life practically since birth.
“There are times when it’s not the easiest thing in the world but you keep at it simply because you know no one else can. If we don’t do it for Greg, no one else will,” she said.
And now, more than 50 years later, she awaits what could possibly be the news she has sought after all this time.
“I’ve tried to quit and I just couldn’t. It’s just not in me to quit and I’m glad I didn’t because we were told earlier this year that an excavation proposal has been put together, they believe they’ve found where Greg is buried,” she announced.
She credited a new case analyst that has “been an absolute blessing.”
“There’s still a lot of ‘ifs’ there … but we’re just so excited because you don’t know how many times we were told we would never get here,” she said.
Now, she and her family await the approval of the excavation packet, hopefully within the next six months.
Upon approval, the excavation should be completed within the year.
“And then maybe… maybe we’re going to have one hell of a party,” Reitano said. “Thank you all so much for staying with us, for staying faithful, and for not forgetting Greg.”
Assemblyman Will Barclay spoke on behalf of all POW/MIA service members just like Greg Harris whose bravery and courageousness spoke volumes to the testament of American spirit.
“It’s difficult for most of us to comprehend the amount of suffering, despair, and loneliness that our POW’s experienced during their captivity. They endure the greatest adversity that any American can face, to be deprived of their liberty at the hands of the enemy,” he said.
“As with POW’s, we must never forget those who answered our nation’s call and never returned. We cannot rest in our efforts to bring these patriots home to their families. The grief and burden that their families carry never fades, even decades later. We must never forget these brave men and women and remember the supreme sacrifice they gave to our way of life and freedoms,” he continued.
Reitano and family placed a wreath for all POW/MIA under the tree of remembrance planted so many years ago for her cousin.
Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. and Veteran of the Year Bob LaRock placed a wreath at Veterans Park and VFW Auxiliary President lit the candle of remembrance for the victims of 9/11.
Fulton Veterans Council President Garry Visconti recalled the historic day that shook the world seventeen years ago as the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by terrorist attack.
He could see the buildings burning from New Jersey where he was working, he said.
“I remember leaving New Jersey and all you could see were these firemen, EMT, and police rushing toward the city to help out. That’s what these (first responders) here are trained to do. When you run out, they run in,” Visconti said, recognizing members of the Fulton Police Department and Fulton Fire Department standing under the flag, proudly hanging in the wind from atop the FFD ladder truck.
In fact, History.com declares 9/11 to be the deadliest day in history for NYC firefighters, losing a total of 343 lives of NYFD members in their attempt to save others.
“We can’t forget the tried tragedy that took place on September 11, 2001. Though many years have passed, we must always remember the lives lost and their families. Amid the horror, we witnessed unparalleled acts of bravery, heroism, and kindness by military personnel, firefighters, police, and citizens who risked their lives to help those in need and help our country stand firm against the fear,” Assemblyman Barclay said.
Guests observed a moment of silence, held candles, and sang “God Bless America” in unison before rounding out the ceremony with a closing prayer to persevere in the struggle to locate and return home all Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.