Many more before POW/MIA Memorial and Museum becomes reality

March 29, 2019 was a fitting day to dedicate the newly-restored Chapel of the High-Speed Pass and unveil two plaques which commemorate the chapel’s historic landmark status. That date was also National Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day and local veterans were there to help celebrate the occasion at Cecil Field.

Hosted by the Cecil Field POW/MIA Memorial, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring all former prisoners of war and remembering those missing in action, the dedication service was preceded by a brief unveiling of two plaques on the front of the chapel. The first notes the historic landmark status, as legislated by the City of Jacksonville in 2018, for its part in the military base’s 58-year history (1941-1999). The other plaque commemorates the day of dedication, March 29, 2019, following more than a year of renovation and restoration.

The Chapel of the High-Speed Pass hosted hundreds of weddings, baptisms, memorial and funeral services, in addition to Memorial Day and Veterans Day events since 1966. Built in the A-frame design popular in church architecture during the 1960-1970s, the chapel was designed by KJB Architects of Jacksonville.

Michael Cassata and Buddy Harris at the plaque commemorating the chapel’s historic landmark status.
Michael Cassata and Buddy Harris at the plaque commemorating the chapel’s historic landmark status.

The chapel restoration project was part of a larger, multi-million project to create a memorial and a museum. The $30 million project is expected to take five to six years to complete.

Land preparation for Phase I of the project was expected to begin in early 2019. There will be a Jet Display area, replica of the Cecil runways, reflection areas, and a brick paved area known as Benefactor Plaza. There will be memorials for the different conflicts and campaigns the base was involved in from World War II to Operation Desert Shield and Storm. The USS Forrestal (CVA-59) incident, known as the “Forrestal fire” on July 29, 1967, will honor and remember the heroes lost.   

The service included music by the Let Freedom Sing Choir, the First Baptist Academy Youth Choir and the Liberty Express Quartet, the presenting and posting of the colors by the Filipino American Veterans Society Honor Guard, dedication of the Missing Man Pew, a tribute to the four chaplains who served at the chapel during its heyday, and keynote speaker Richard “Richie” Perricone, a former POW.

Perricone, a St. Augustine resident, was captured by the North Vietnamese Army in 1967, two years after being drafted and assigned to Third Platoon of B Company, 112 Infantry Battalion, 4th Army Division. He was part of the infamous march up the Ho Chi Minh Trail and imprisoned at the “Hanoi Hilton,” the Hoa Lo Prison, then released in 1973. His military decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, two Purple Hearts, the POW Medal, National Defense Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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