Vietnam veterans reunite to honor MIA soldier friend

Credit: Paul Boehlke/ KTVB

Vietnam veterans reunite to honor MIA soldier friend

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by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey

KTVB.COM

Posted on May 27, 2013 at 6:52 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 2:20 PM

HAILEY -- As many Idahoans are remembered on Memorial Day, some friends and fellow soldiers honored a 21-year-old who went MIA in Vietnam in 1971.

The 10th annual Hailey Memorial Day Ceremony was set to honor the Vietnam Era, and was dedicated to six men with ties to Blaine County who were killed in action, including Specialist Gary R. Boushele.

Chief Warrant Officer Jon Michael (Mike) Sparks was also honored. He was presumed dead years after his helicopter was shot down in the Vietnam War.

At the beginning of the ceremony, The Battlefield Cross, a sculpture dedicated to the Blaine County fallen was carried to the base of an American flag flying at half staff. It was carried in front by two men who haven't seen each other since the Vietnam War, where their friend Sparks went MIA.

"There is not one day, not one day goes by that I don't think about those guys. Never ever, in 40 years,"  Vietnam Veteran J. Pat Branch said.

Branch was supposed to be with Sparks the day his helicopter was shot down, but Branch was sick and replaced.

"I was supposed to be on that mission. My birthday was March 18th, the day before [Sparks was shot down]. I got food poisoning that night and got very very sick. Paul Langenour volunteered to take my place and he was the only survivor of those missing in action," Branch said.

Since then, childhood friend Rick Baird explains Sparks hasn't had a plaque or a marker put down specifically in his memory.

"One of the reasons that things were not done back then is because his mother refused to believe that he was dead. In fact, she held out until she passed away hoping that someday he'd come home," Baird said.

But this Memorial Day, as all who gave their lives and served this county are honored, Sparks is honored and welcomed home right along with them.

"Talking about the sacrifices of these Blaine County residents during the Vietnam War just demonstrates the fact that we owe the fact that we can enjoy this day in this state in is country to people who were willing to step up to the plate and pay the ultimate price," Baird said.

"We need to remember guys like Jon Sparks. He was a good man, a good friend, a good pilot and a good soldier," Branch said.

Sparks' friends hope to start working on some type of physical memorial for him sometime this year.

Monday's ceremony also featured a rememberance for a soldier still believed held captive by enemy forces. To honor Hailey-native Bowe Bergdahl, people tied yellow ribbons to the trees of the cemetery. He was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan nearly four years ago.

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