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Keeping alive memories of warriors who never came home

World War II veteran Ernie Montrond of Taunton saluted during a rendition of the national anthem Sunday before the start of a POW/MIA Day remembrance ceremony.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

World War II veteran Ernie Montrond of Taunton saluted during a rendition of the national anthem Sunday before the start of a POW/MIA Day remembrance ceremony.

TAUNTON — Jane Van Gyzen belongs to a club that no parent wants to join. Yesterday, she stood before about 100 men and women, who formed a semicircle on a small triangular patch of green, and tried to explain what it means to lose a son.

“It’s called ‘Remember Me,’ ” she said, and dedicated the short poem to her son, Marine Lance Corporal John Van Gyzen IV. On July 5, 2004, he was killed in Iraq after an insurgent’s rocket slammed into the truck he was sitting in. The Dighton native had just turned 21 a few weeks before his death.

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The Gold Star mother, who knows the poem by heart, read the first couplets softly:

Remember Me, with smiles and laughter.

For that’s how I will remember you.

If you only remember me with tears and sorrow.

Then don’t remember me at all. . . .

Her voice grew stronger as she finished.

People in the crowd — some in ties and jackets, some wearing Army fatigues, and some in leather jackets — pushed away tears as she talked.

For the last several years, Van Gyzen has been coming to the annual POW/MIA Day Remembrance Ceremony in Taunton. The ceremony began in 1983, when Taunton leaders named the last Sunday of March as an official remembrance day to commemorate the more than 83,000 Americans still missing from past wars and conflicts.

Dennis Proulx considers Taunton’s remembrance day sacred, and he has thought about missing veterans nearly every day since he joined the Army and saw action in Vietnam in 1970. There are still 39 soldiers from the state who were considered prisoners of war or missing in action in Vietnam, whose bodies have never been recovered.

“It’s something that we always worried about when we were in Vietnam. We wondered if we got captured or became missing in action, would somebody come after us?” Proulx recalled.

Standing before a podium at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the small park, Proulx and others, including Mayor Tom Hoye of Taunton, implored the federal government to keep searching for American prisoners of wars and those missing in action.

“We will not rest until we have accounted for the missing members of our armed forces,” said Hoye.

Also present were about a dozen members of Rolling Thunder, a national motorcycle club dedicated to bringing home all American POWs and MIAs.

Joe D’Etremont, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Rolling Thunder, said his organization has started a drive to place a POW-MIA chair in every City Hall in Massachusetts. Already, nine communities have agreed, including Taunton. A chair has been dedicated at Gillette Stadium, and one is planned to be unveiled at the TD Garden later this month.

D’Etremont believes it will take a national grass-roots effort to put more pressure on the government to locate the lost Americans.

“We need to start banging on the doors of Washington,” said D’Etremont. “For people to not know where their loved one is or what happened to them for decades — it really just breaks my heart.”

On a corner of the green, Ernest Cardoza stood silently, listening and staring at an American flag near the Vietnam monument. Cardoza, a retired schoolteacher, grew up in Taunton and went off to the Korean War. On Sunday, he was thinking of Norman Levesque, a high school classmate who fought in Korea and whose remains were never located.

“I’ve come out of respect for those who have never returned and who served their country as they saw fit,” he said. “They lost all their tomorrows. We’ll never know what they might have produced in this world.”

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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