Legion ceremony honors the KIA veterans


In the 1970s, many college students wore Prison of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) bracelets. They were simple — nickel-plated or copper — engraved with the name, rank and date of those fighting for the country in Vietnam. It was assumed that many of the missing were in fact dead, but the bracelet seemed to provide an modicum of hope.

The U.S. military casualty estimate from that war — 58,220 — is listed in the National Archives, from data provided by the Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File of the Defense Casualty Analysis System Extract Files. But the loss of Americans was even graver during World War II. According to the National World War II Museum, 416,800 American military perished. They include Robert H. Spittel of Bayville.

An infantryman, the 21-year-old died on Dec. 8, 1944, shot by a sniper on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. It took until September 1948 for his parents to receive permission to bring their son’s body home for burial in Bayville Cemetery.

Bayville’s American Legion received its charter in 1943 and named the post after Spittel. His father, Herman, was the commander from 1945 to 1947.

Inside post headquarters, at 45 Bayville Ave., is a photograph of Robert Spittel, his burial flag and his wartime medals. The post’s current commander, Vincent Libertini, said members wanted to do more for those who were killed in action. The post is honoring them for their service by holding a brief ceremony on the day they were killed outside, by the post’s war monument.

Libertini attributes most of the brainstorming for the project to Jack McKie, a Vietnam veteran who has been a member of Bayville’s post since 1973. He worked with Dave Rapelje, the director at the Bayville Historical Museum, to find the photographs and identify the Bayville veterans who died in war. It was during a recent renovation of the post that many of the photographs were uncovered.

“We commemorated everyone who gave their all,” McKie said, gazing at the wall that contained eight photographs. “We wanted to pay tribute to them with the memorial wall so everyone that comes into the post will see them.”

Gathering outside, the veterans stood at attention. The American and POW/MIA flags, both at half-staff, gently waved in the cold, early-morning wind.

“We are holding this ceremony to remember Robert H. Spittel on the date that he was killed in action in Vietnam,” Libertini said. “We place a wreath at the monument to honor him.”

Then there was a hand salute by the veterans and the playing of taps.

Richard Kitz fought in the Korean War. Back inside the post, he and a dozen other members were drinking coffee. Kitz lingered by the photographs of the veterans that had perished during battle.

“I don’t know if the other legions are doing this, and I think we might be the first,” he said, turning to look at the photograph of Spittel. “I think it’s a fantastic idea to honor the ones who died and do it on the day they gave their life for their country.”