POW/MIA Guard Tower Donated to Vietnam War Museum
ELMIRA, NY (WENY) -- The Vietnam War Museum in Elmira has a new addition to its collection, serving as a visible reminder of service members who became prisoners of war, or missing in action.
A replica of a the guard tower that is depicted on the federally recognized POW/MIA flag now stands behind the museum, adjacent to Woodlawn National Cemetery. The tower was a donation from Vietnam veteran, Vernon Brewer II.
"This is more of a symbol to get people to remember them. Because they're gone, face it. There's 80,000 young men and women, mostly young men, missing from WWII to now," explained Brewer.
Brewer was part of a Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle club who built the tower back in 2005, on private property in the Corning area. He said it was built as a way to honor American soldiers who didn't make it home.
"When we built it, we wanted it to be resemblant of the same tower on the Congressionally approved POW/MIA flag. And that’s as close as we could get," Brewer explained.
Recently, changes within the club led Brewer to have to make a decision. Move the tower to his own property, or find a new place where it can be seen and appreciated. Brewer immediately thought of the Vietnam War Museum in Elmira, and reached out to its president, Dennis Wolfe, Sr.
"I though geez, you know, that’s what this place is all about. And this was a big part of what we went through in Vietnam," said Wolfe, about soldiers who became prisoners of war or went missing in action during the Vietnam War.
According to the Department of Defense, almost 1,578 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, across North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Moving the tower from Corning to Elmira was tricky. Because of its state after nearly 20 years, some parts of the tower were in disrepair, or broke during dismantling and transport. Looking a little worse for the wear, once it arrived in Elmira, several Vietnam vets, along with other local veterans and supporters got to work rolling up their sleeves for some much-needed repairs and improvements.
"We had to take the roof part off, the upper part of it, and when we did that, a lot of it fell apart, it was pretty dry rotted in places. So we went through, we bought some materials we needed and got some donations again, and we put it all together and this is what it looks like, it’s beautiful," explained Wolfe. "Everybody had a hand in it, everybody did. It's very moving for us, it really is. It tells another story, and that's what Vietnam is all about."
The tower is now in its new permanent home, behind the Vietnam War Museum at 1200 Davis Street in Elmira, adjacent to Woodlawn National Cemetery. The organization says it's a thoughtful tribute to those still missing, in a place whose mission is to honor those who served, and never forget the sacrifices they made.
"I’m truly honored, really. I think this is a tremendous asset to the story about the Vietnam War that people here never got to see. So it’s part of our organization now, and we love it," Wolfe said.
"I couldn’t think of a better place for this tower to be," said Brewer.