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Rejecting statue jeopardizes hunt for missing personnel

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By Rick Boyd
Guest Columnist

Sunday, April 22, 2018

There’s lots of debate about the Project Zebra monument. People say it’s racially polarizing, that it interferes with elections, or that we don’t need anything from Russia.

Before you stop reading, do me a favor: Open up your mind, and read for a few moments. The Project Zebra monument is a gift from a group of military people that has banded together from all over the world. They’re not political. They are veterans trying to find veterans who died serving their countries. Veterans who died for their country.

Did you know there are still currently 1,981 missing American veterans in southeast Asia, and 8,800 American veterans still lost in Korea? Did you know that there are 78,000 — yes, 78,000 — missing Americans from World War II? Thousands of these Americans died in the sinking of naval ships, and will probably never, ever be recovered. Through the workings of the organization sponsoring this monument, we have the opportunity to find heroes who have given the ultimate sacrifice, who laid down their lives in service to their country.

Who were these people? Sons and daughters, husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers. Most of them lost for over 50 years.

This group of dedicated military people proposing the monument is committed to finding these loved ones so families have closure. Perhaps, miraculously, they may be brought back home for a proper funeral service. This past October, the remains of 11 U.S. Air Force servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, were identified and will soon be laid to rest.

If I remember history correctly, America is a melting pot. Many races make up this great country we call America, and are represented by these servicemen and women who fought and died for their country. How satisfying would it be to find out that a relative or yours was found and there was an opportunity to bring him or her home? For you to share that experience and legacy with you children?

So when you hear this monument is being gifted to us by a country that meddled in our elections, it’s irrelevant. This monument is being given to commemorate the cooperation of our countries in a terrible time of war and to pay tribute to the sacrifice made here. We came together in a very strained partnership with Russia, put our feelings behind us, and saved the civilized world. That’s what this monument stands for.

Accepting this monument encourages us to continue cooperative efforts to find our lost heroes. Turning this gift down may interfere with that cooperation. Finding missing people involves Russia’s willingness to open classified records to the United States’ scrutiny so that we can hopefully learn details that can lead to a lost U.S. serviceman or woman. To be told that the Russian people have decided not to continue cooperation just because a certain city didn’t allow a monument to be built would be tragic and terminate the working relationship that our two countries had, in this regard, for several decades.

Project Zebra came out of the Lend-lease program. President Franklin Roosevelt visited Elizabeth City in the early 1930s. When Project Zebra started to become a reality, President Roosevelt suggested our patriotic little town in northeastern North Carolina as the perfect place to pull this project off. We worked hand-in-hand with Russian airmen here, in a secret mission kept from the public for nearly 70 years. Now we have an opportunity to receive this amazing sculpture from our former ally, and some want to turn it down for all the wrong reasons. I wonder if President Roosevelt, the longest-serving U.S. president in history, might not just roll over in his grave.

I think we should do the right thing and welcome this monument into our town with open arms and receive it with the same graciousness it was offered to us.

Rick Boyd is a resident of Elizabeth City.

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