ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — On Thursday, May 23, Glenn Sykora placed the last of a 5,822-flag display, honoring the memory of the 58,220 Americans who died during the Vietnam War.
The flag, which was placed around the main flag pole at Robertsdale High School, was put there in memory of Glenn Sykora’s brother, Robert, a member of the RHS Class of 1961, who was shot down as part of a spy mission over the Sea of Japan in 1969.
Born Dec. 31, 1942, Sykora’s was serving with the U.S. Navy when his plane was shot down on April 15, 1969 by the North Koreans, killing all those aboard, said Delores Sturma, who also helped organize the plaque, along with fellow Class of 61 alumna Beryl Camp Adkisson.
There were 31 people on the plane when it was shot down. Only two bodies were recovered, found floating near the wreckage. Sykora and 28 others were never found, but it is believed that there were no survivors.
Because Sykora and the others were considered by the military to be too far from the fighting in Vietnam when they died, they were not considered casualties of the war, Adkisson said, and are not included among the names on the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., although he is included on the replica memorial which was placed at USS Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile.
For Adkisson, memorializing her classmate has been a personal mission for years.
“In the mid-90s, I went with my daughter (at the time, a student at E.R. Dixon in Mobile) on a fieldtrip to Washington,” she said. “We visited the Vietnam memorial and I looked for his name on the Wall. Of course, it was not there. I just feel like something needs to be done to honor him and others who may not have otherwise been memorialized.”
Details of Sykora’s mission and how he and the others died were deemed classified information by the military and have only recently been declassified, said Sturma and Adkisson.
Robert Sykora’s name is the first on the list of a Memorial Wall of Honor plaque, which was dedicated May 23 in the lobby at Robertsdale High School listing the names of those who attended RHS who have died while serving their country.
The plaque, along with a larger flag placed in memory of Sykora, was dedicated by his fellow classmates. On hand for the ceremony were many of Sykora’s classmates and family, including siblings Glenn, Allen and Linda Sykora Gilmore, and his mother, Elizabeth, who will turn 100 in October.
“I just want to say, on behalf of the members of the class of 1961, how proud we are to be able to honor those from Robertsdale High School who gave their lives for their country,” said classmate Harry White, who served with NAS Pensacola and helped organize the May 23 ceremony. “And we are proud that the name of our classmate Robert J. Sykora is at the top of that list.”
Sykora’s family was presented with a flag that flew over Morning Colors at NAS Pensacola and were also presented a flag which flew over the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C., presented by Allison Clark with U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne’s office.
The ceremony also featured remarks from Class of 1961 President Bill Barnhill.
Sykora also left behind a wife and a young child.
Right now, the plaque includes 17 names, Sturma said, and will soon be adding three names with another five pending.
“It’s a long process to get names added to the plaque,” Sturma said. “We have to first verify that they went to Robertsdale High School (they do not have to be a graduate), then we have to verify that they did, in fact, die during the service of their country, which can be a long process.”
Others who have so far been honored include: Edward Gilbert Forsman, U.S. Marine Corps, Sept. 19, 1917 to Sept. 18, 1942; Alver Oscar Anderberg, U.S. Navy, Aug. 12, 1915-June 27 1944; Walter Webb Hoiles Jr., U.S. Army, July 19, 1924 to Aug. 19, 1959; Jack P. West, U.S. Army, July 11, 1937 to Nov. 29, 1959; Leonard Boykin, U.S. Army, May 24, 1941 to May 1, 1963; Carl Ronnie Hallberg, U.S. Army National Guard, Aug. 21, 1938 to May 21, 1966; Leonard Earl Giles, U.S. Marine Corps, Feb. 21, 1948 to June 2, 1967; Edward Mosley, U.S. Air Force, Dec. 21, 1934 to Oct. 15, 1967; Carl Oscar Pearson Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, June 18, 1949 to May 8, 1968; William Lawrence Pate, U.S. Marine Corps, March 8, 1949 to May 16, 1968; Kelly Clay Calvert, U.S. Army, Jan. 26, 1948 to Dec. 9, 1968; Charles Frank Sturma, U.S. Army, June 27, 1944 to March 9, 1969; Vernon Bray, U.S. Navy, 1924 to Aug. 22, 1942; Floyd Arthur Hallberg, U.S. Army, Oct. 19, 1950 to March 16, 1973; Grady Ray Etheridge, U.S. Army, Dec. 12, 1943 to May 12, 1974; Erik Ryan Ferrell, U.S. Navy, March 11, 1986 to July 15, 2006.
Sturma said names will continue to be added to the plaque as they are verified and anyone who would like more information about getting your loved one or classmate added to the list can contact Sturma at 251-752-1168 or Adkisson at 251-533-8124.