Monday, September 21, 2009

MOUNT OLIVE — Raymond Kooman remembers his time as a prisoner of war of German forces during the World War II.

Kooman, now 83, was captured during the Battle of the Bulge at age 18 and still carries the prisoner identification tag he was forced to wear.

"We walked 800 miles in 30 days," said Kooman, of Little Ferry. "There was nothing to eat — 35 men to one loaf of bread. I weighed 82 pounds when we were liberated by British soldiers."

Kooman was among 100 people who attended a tribute to prisoners of war and those missing in action Sunday afternoon at Turkey Brook Park. The two-hour remembrance ceremony was hosted by the New Jersey chapter of the American Legion Auxiliary.

The ceremony marked National POW/MIA Remembrance Day, observed Friday, established to honor the estimated 90,000 soldiers who remain listed as missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War. The majority of those are suspected to be dead, said Julie Jandik, who organized the event in honor of her uncle, who fought in the Korean War and is still listed as missing in action.

"Every day, there are new findings and new remains being sent back," said Jandik, of Mine Hill.

During the ceremony, representatives from the five branches of the military placed service hats at a table with six place settings, including one to mark missing civilians, to honor the spirits of POWs and MIAs. Charlene Cosgrove of Cedar Knolls, was among a group of local mothers who lit a candle for remembrance. Her son, Christopher Cosgrove, was killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2006 just days before he was to return home, she said.

"It's tough," Cosgrove said of attending the ceremony. "These veterans are our all heroes, true heroes."

Willard and John Apgar, twin brothers from Long Valley and Chester, respectively, wanted to honor the POW/MIAs with whom they fought with during World War II. Their brother Berneys Apgar was killed in combat in Germany.

"You can read about military deaths in the paper, but when it happens in your family, it is very devastating," said Willard Apgar, 83. "We cannot forget these men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice."

Meghan Van Dyk: 973-428-6633;