War veterans stage relay marathon to D.C. for MIAs A team of 15 travels from New York for POW/MIA remembrance day.

September 19, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff plB

In his sleep, John Claypoole sees the face of his friend who was shot down in a helicopter during the Vietnam War. He sees the face that eyewitnesses saw as the man was taken prisoner alive and never heard from again.

In his battery-powered wheelchair riding from Rochester, N.Y., to Washington, Claypoole asks others to see that face and all the other soldiers missing in action from that war.

"People react, but I want them to remember," said Claypoole, who is leading a team of 15 veterans from each war since World War II in a relay marathon. They left Rochester Sunday and expect to reach the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington tomorrow, a national day of remembrance for prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

Yesterday, their route took them south along Md. 97 into Westminster, where they stopped for the night.

"He can't speak well, but his wheelchair speaks for him," said Claypoole's wife, Rose, as the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars served dinner to the marathoners. Claypoole was handicapped and his speech impaired by wounds received while serving on a "river rat," or Navy patrol boat.

Of the 15 men in the team, he is one of seven who take turns, running two miles at a time, as vans and cars carry the rest. They cover about 70 miles a day.

The night before its arrival in Westminster, the team members met the family of a Vietnam MIA in Carlisle, Pa.

The family thanked them, and because of that meeting the team was burning up the miles yesterday, said Don Amerose, who was wounded as an air cavalryman in Vietnam. "I've never seen them run like that. Never."

Amerose rides ahead of the runners and sets up their itinerary. "I don't run anymore," he said. "I'd love to, but due to some excess metal in my feet, I can't."

The Department of Defense is planning a ceremony tomorrow, but the POW/MIA Marathon Team, as it is called, plans to hold its own instead. "We don't feel the observance is a proper observance," said Harvey Specht, also a runner.

Specht and many others on the team believe the government has failed to pursue many leads and reports of sightings of Americans still held in Vietnam.

As one of the Seals, an elite Navy commando force, during his tour in Vietnam, "I experienced the government not being on the up and up," Specht said. After returning from missions, he said, "I know the information we brought back was ignored some of the time."

So Specht has taken a week off from his job as a production machinery mechanic at Eastman Kodak to run and give out information to all who stop, stare and ask questions.

Among the literature they distribute is the resignation letter of Col. Millard A. Peck, who quit as chief of the Pentagon Special Office for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action earlier this year. Peck charged that the government was suppressing information and conducting a cover-up.

People read the literature and often call their members of Congress, Specht said. "I've never seen anyone throw it away," he said. "This is not something you're going to go to sleep to. This is an American tragedy."

This is the team's fourth annual marathon. Previous runs have taken it to Vietnam War memorials in New York, Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia.

Team members convey their message face to face and over citizens band radio to truckers.

Many in the team joined through the Rochester network of Vietnam veterans. Others like Don McNelly, a World War II veteran who runs marathons all over the country, were recruited.

Vietnam wasn't McNelly's war but he says he runs with its veterans because "we want an accounting" of men missing in action.

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