OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Hundreds of motorcycles roached into this beach community as part of a procession that kick-started POW/MIA Recognition Weekend.
The event is the culmination of a year's worth of planning, and an opportunity for members of the community to say thank you to service members and their families for their sacrifices made past and present.
"This means the world to me to have this event come together," stated Vietnam Veteran and event organizer, Russell Warriner. "I'm hoping to promote understanding of the POW issue, and understanding of what we did years ago, and bringing everything to the fore front."
The three day long event will feature special ceremonies to honor those who served, along with music and activities that are family friendly and designed to promote healing by bringing people together to talk and share their stories and experiences.
A banner featuring the names of 559 Mainers still missing in action will also be on display and the event will help raise money for the Wounded Heroes Program of Maine.
"The whole purpose of this event is to honor the sacrifice of the service members who never made it back home and experienced some pretty horrific things being POW's, and the families who still have had no closure from these events," explained Pam Payeur, a volunteer who helped with the planning and is raising money and awareness about injured soldiers. "You are talking back all the way to Nam, Korea, so it is really important to let them know that even though we say we have not forgotten, we really haven't."
A centerpiece of Friday's procession was a Cobra Helicopter transported on a flatbed all the way from South Carolina by the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, a non-profit group that restores military vehicles to display a festivals and in parades.
Larry Russell drove the rig carrying the chopper for four days through several states to attend the event. He says the response he received driving through southern Maine made his day, but he wishes more people would should pride in their country and support for our troops.
"We need to be patriotic everyday," said Russell. "The country is in dire straits economically, education wise, we still have troops over seas in the war that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. One of our jobs with the foundation is to promote patriotism. We need a lot more patriotism in this country, because we have gotten complacent after 9-11, and what we don't need is another tragedy to get everybody woken up again."
The Maine Patriot Guard Riders met the procession at the Maine border, and were joined by several members of the Widows Sons Masonic Riders Association, whose members escorted the helicopter along its journey northward.
James Mowel, a member of the Connecticut National Guard and an organizer with the Widows Sons, says it is hard to understand the pain and lack of closure these families of POW's and MIA's still deal with to this day.
"It is difficult," said Mowel. "You are always asking how did this happen? How did that happen? I mean, unfortunately, from the military standpoint, you don't really ask. You are given your orders and you try to just train and you go and you accomplish the mission."
He says riders from eight chapters of the Widows Sons participated in the ride, and are proud to support the event.
There will be musical performances, and ceremonies at the Old Orchard Beach Ballpark on Saturday beginning at 9am, and a special memorial service on Sunday that starts at 10am.