MEREDITH — Thousands of Laconia Motorcycle Week visitors are expected to attend the Northeast POW/MIA Network's Freedom Ride and vigil on June 13 to raise awareness of POW/MIA issues
They will also honor the only American prisoner of war in Iraq or Afghanistan, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho.
For the past 20 years, motorcycle riders from across the country have commemorated missing and captive American soldiers with a ride and vigil the Thursday of Laconia Motorcycle Week.
The Freedom Ride will begin in Gilford and conclude with a vigil at Hesky Park in Meredith with a proclamation from Gov. Maggie Hassan. Information on the Freedom Ride, sponsored by Laconia Harley-Davidson, can be found at www.northeastpowmianetwork.org.
The Northeast POW/MIA Network gained nationwide attention some 25 years ago when a small group of veterans began holding weekly Thursday night vigils in Meredith to honor servicemen and women missing in Vietnam. Through basking heat, ridged rain storms and mid-winter snows, this small group has held a weekly vigil each and every Thursday night to gain recognition for the members of our armed forces who were unaccounted for.
The vigil was quickly embraced by Laconia Motorcycle Week attendees and has grown into what is now the Freedom Ride, drawing thousands of supporters each year.
"Our primary focus this year is to dedicate our vigil to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his family," said Bob Jones, vice-president of the Northeast POW/MIA Network. "We need to do everything necessary and raise awareness so we can bring this American soldier home."
Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and is believed to be held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, likely somewhere in Pakistan. Bergdahl recently "celebrated" his 27 birthday unwillingly as a prisoner of war.
Sgt. Bergdahl's status is classified as Missing/Captured or MIA-C, a severe injustice according to Jones.
"International law and the Geneva Convention do not make any mention of the Missing/Captured status, thus it does not provide Sgt. Bergdahl privileges of care and treatment afforded to someone that is classified as an official prisoner of war," said Jones. "We are calling on the United States government to officially change Sgt. Bergdahl's status to POW so he can obtain the protection and international recognition he deserves. Those responsible for sending Sgt. Bergdahl into harm's way are equally responsible to protect him and to bring him home."
The Freedom Ride begins at 5 p.m. on June 13 in the Lowe's parking lot located on Rt. 11-1407 Lakeshore Road in Gilford. At 6 p.m., the riders will make the scenic seven mile ride around Lake Winnipesaukee and meet for a vigil at New Hampshire's Original POW/MIA Memorial, "The Rock" at Hesky Park in Meredith.