Posts Tagged ‘memorial day’

“We grow up with such an idealistic view on how our life should be; love, friendships, a career or even the place we will live ~ only to age and realise none of it is what you expected & reality is a little disheartening, when you’ve reached that realisation; you have learnt the gift of all, any new beginning can start now and if you want anything bad enough you’ll find the courage to pursue it with all you have. The past doesn’t have to be the future, stop making it so.”  Nikki Rowe

I was about 12 years old in McAllen, Texas where I was born, and this man would occasionally come to visit my uncle and have dinner, they were very close friends.  His name, as they called him, was Nikki Rowe.  Of course, what did I know, I was just 12 years old.  I just called him Nikki.  My uncle even named one of his sons after him.  When my father died back in 2011, a Normandy Vet, I went back to bury him in McAllen, and I saw that the City named a main street and school after him.  This is Col. Rowe’s story.

On October 29, 1963, after only three months in country, Rowe was captured by Viet Cong elements along with Captain Humberto “Rocky” R. Versace and Sergent Daniel L. Pitzer while on an operation to drive a Viet Cong unit out of the village of Le Coeur.  Rowe states that the VC were a main force unit due to his observations of their equipment.

Rowe was separated from his fellow Green Berets and spent 62 months in captivity with only brief encounters with fellow American POWs. Rowe was held in the U Minh Forest, better known as the “Forest of Darkness,” in extreme southern Vietnam.  During most of his five years in captivity Rowe was held in a 3 by 4 by 6 feet (0.91 m × 1.22 m × 1.83 m) bamboo cage. 

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ferd Kaufman/AP/Shutterstock (6644573a)
James Rowe U.S. Army Maj. James N. Rowe of McAllen, Texas, stands beside a replica of a bamboo cage, in which he was held prisoner by the Viet Cong. Rowe escaped in 1968. He is holding his eating cup and chop sticks

As an intelligence officer, Rowe possessed vital information about the disposition of defenses around the CIDG camps, the locations of mine field, names of friendly Vietnamese, and unit locations and strength. Rowe had left his West Point ring at home in the United States, and he told his captors that he was a draftee engineer charged with building schools and other civil affairs projects.  The Viet Cong interrogated him unsuccessfully.  They gave him some engineering problems to solve and Rowe, relying on the basic instruction in engineering he’d received at West Point, successfully maintained his deception.

However, Rowe’s deceptive cover was blown when the Viet Cong managed to obtain a list of American high-value prisoners-of-war (POWs), and his name was in the list, identifying him as an intelligence officer. This enraged the VC, prompting them to order his execution.

Rowe was then led deep into the jungle to be shot.  When his would-be executioners were distracted by a flight of American helicopters, he overpowered his guard, escaped and flagged down a UH-1 helicopter piloted by Major David E. Thompson. He was rescued on December 31, 1968, New Years Eve.

In 1981 he returned to military service as a lieutenant colonel to become chief of Green Beret training at Fort Bragg. In 1985 he was placed in command of Fort Bragg’s First Special Warfare Training Battalion, a position he held until 1987, when he was made chief of the Army Division at the Joint United States Military Advisory Group headquarters in Quezon City, Philippines.
Rowe designed and build a course based upon his experience as a POW. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) is now a requirement for graduation from the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course. SERE is taught at the Colonel James “Nick” Rowe Training compound at Camp MackallNorth Carolina.  It is considered by many to be the most important advanced training in the special operations field. Navy, Air Force and Marine Special Operations personnel all attend variations of this course taught by their respective services.[7]

By 1987, Colonel Rowe was assigned as the chief of the Army division of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG), providing counter-insurgency training for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence organizations of the Republic of the Philippines, he was involved in its nearly decade-long program to penetrate the New People’s Army (NPA), the communist insurgency that threatened to overthrow the Philippines’ government.[8]

By February 1989, Rowe had acquired intelligence information which indicated that the communists were planning a major terrorist act. He warned Washington that a high-profile figure was about to be assassinated and that he himself was second or third on the assassination list. At around 7:00 in the morning of April 21, 1989, as he was being driven to work at the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group headquarters in an armoured limousine, Rowe’s vehicle was hit by gunfire from a .45 caliber pistol and an M16 rifle near a corner of Tomas Morato Street and Timog Avenue in Quezon City.[10] Twenty-one shots hit the vehicle; one round entered through an unarmoured portion of the vehicle frame and struck Rowe in the head, killing him instantly, while chauffeur Joaquin Vinuya was wounded. Years later, the New People’s Army eventually claimed responsibility for his assassination. Filipino nationals Juanito T. Itaas (principal) and Donato B. Continente (accomplice) were convicted by a Philippine court in 1991 and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Rowe, and 10 to 17 years for the attempted murder of his driver, Joaquin Vinuya. In 2000 the Supreme Court of the Philippines affirmed the convictions but reduced Continente’s sentence to 14 years, concluding that he was acting as an accomplice, not as a principal. Continente was released from prison on June 28, 2005. As of 2014, Itaas remains in prison, serving the remainder of his life term.[11]

In 1989 the city of McAllen honored Colonel Rowe by renaming Second Street for him. In 1990, Nikki Rowe High School was established as a ninth grade center and in 1992 became a class 5A high school.  Published in 1984, Five Years To Freedom, The True Story Of A Vietnam POW, his story.
“I have a fear of living a surface kind of life;
barely existing, barely touching or tasting anything. That’s why you’ll always see me giving my all or walking away ~ I’m too full of depth to dance in the middle of anything.”
Nikki Rowe

Remembrance-Wall2 copy

Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

Around 1915, Moina Michael first conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war.  She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need.  Inspired by a poem “In Flanders Fields”, she wrote the following poem.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

A war veteran from the shores of Normandy and the Phillipines, my dad has since passed, but a Memorial Day does not go by without remembering him holding my hand as a young child and stopping before a disabled veteran at a local market, where he would donate some money in exchange for a red poppy, in remembrance of those who have fallen in the line of duty.

“We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them”.  – Francis A. Walker

To those who died securing peace and freedom; To those who served in conflict to protect our land, and sacrificed their dreams of the day to preserve the hope of our nation keeping America the land of the free for over two centuries we owe our thanks and our honor. It is important to not only recognize their service but to respect their devotion to duty and to ensure that the purpose for which they fought will never be forgotten.

From the soldiers who fought bravely during the American Revolution to the men and women of today’s Armed Forces, America’s fighting forces, have responded bravely to this nation’s call to duty. Both on the battlefield and in their assurance of readiness, members of the nation’s military remain bound to their duty.  For more than 200 years, America’s Armed Forces have been the surest  guarantee that Freedom will continue to ring across this land …

Our prayers go out this Memorial Day to one of Riverside’s finest, RPD Officer Ryan Bonaminio and to his family.  Ryan went out to doing the right thing, the right thing was to maintain the safety and security of our community, and that he did.

After high school, Ryan joined the United States Army. He completed his Army Basic training and Military Police training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Ryan served two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was a military police officer with the 314th Military Police and his assignments included serving in Umm Qasr, Kuwait City, Bagdad, and Mosuc. He also served in the 282nd Base Support Battalion in Hohenfels, Germany. Officer Bonaminio served with honor and distinction. He was highly praised by his peers and superiors. He earned several medals including the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Reserve Mobilization Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Army Reserve Overseas Training Ribbon, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, and Expert Qualification Badge- 9mm pistol.

Ryan transitioned from military service to law enforcement with the Riverside Police Department on July 7, 2006. He continued his commitment to the US Army Reserves. According to his US Army Military Police Reserve Sergeant Tamara Colosimo, “Ryan has always done what is morally right. He has integrity in everything that he does. Ryan would make a great police officer.”

Riverside Police Department Chief of Police Sergio Diaz stated, “Officer Ryan Bonaminio’s tragic death is a reminder to all of us in the law enforcement family that the supreme sacrifice of our service is also a cost borne by our loved ones, our families, and our community”.


Homage to fallen heroes is not an invention of our days. History beams with examples how various nations in various ages have honored their patriot dead. It was a custom established by the laws of Athens that the obsequies of those who had fallen for their country in battle should be performed in the most public and solemn manner. The bones of the slain were gathered on the plains or mountains, and were brought in solemn procession to the city. There, in tents, they were guarded in state, and received the votive offerings of friends and relatives, such as flowers, weapons, and precious ornaments, which were brought as tributes of affection and evidence of the proper appreciation of their services. … Where such a custom existed, it is not to be marveled at that patriotism and love of country burned in every Grecian breast with a flame which a thousand years of oppression and tyranny were unable to crush out. … Can we be surprised that in such hearts the memory of Thermopylae and Marathon was always fresh? And shall we, the freest of all nations, in our paradise of liberty feel less patriotic fire in our breasts … ? Shall we neglect the graves of those who sacrificed their lives to defend the palladium of our liberty, to perpetuate our national unity, and shield our rights forever? … This Memorial Day, on which we decorate their graves with the tokens of love and affection, is no idle ceremony with us, to pass away an hour; but it brings back to our minds in all their vividness the fearful conflicts of that terrible war in which they fell as victims. … Let us , then, all unite in the solemn feelings of the hour, and tender with our flowers the warmest sympathies of our souls! Let us revive our patriotism and love of country by this act, and strengthen our loyalty by the example of the noble dead around us….    – Major General John Logan, On May 30, 1870, Delivered upon the occasion of the Decoration of Union Soldiers’ Graves at the National Cemetery, Arlington, VA