A local Boy Scout will honor a Whitehall native who has been missing in action for more than 60 years during a special ceremony held at American Legion Post 83 on Veterans Day.
Michael Mattison, a senior at Whitehall High School and a member of Boy Scout Troop 83, erected a pair of flagpoles outside the post last month as a requirement to become an Eagle Scout and will dedicate the project in memory of Harry Rehm.
The dedication will be held immediately following the traditional Veterans Day ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11, at Riverside Veterans Memorial Park on Main Street.
“The first time I came here to talk to him (James Lafayette) about the project and fill out some of the paperwork, he told me about Harry. I had no idea before then and we came up with the idea,” said Mattison.
“I’m real proud of Mike for doing something for Harry Rehm. There are not a lot of monuments for Harry and I think there should be,” said James Lafayette.
Rehm was born in 1924 and grew up in Whitehall. After high school he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and served in World War II as a bombardier. He was called back into service during the Korean War.
“He was called back because he was an expert on the Norton bomb sight, which was an aiming device at the time,” Lafayette said.
On Dec. 30, 1952, Rehm was on a mission when his B-29 aircraft was shot down by North Korean Migs. What happened after that remains a mystery.
Lafayette said he knows Rehm was held as a prisoner of war because fellow servicemen who had come back from the war told him as much.
It was believed that Rehm was going to be released as part of Operation Big Switch, which involved the exchange of nearly 76,000 Communist soldiers and about 13,000 United Nations soldiers, but he wasn’t among the nearly 3,600 Americans who were released in the fall of 1953.
There are suspicions that Rehm may have been kept imprisoned because of his technical knowledge, but no one is sure.
“We just don’t know what happened,” said Lafayette.
Mattison, who has enlisted in the Marines, said it “feels pretty good” to dedicate the project in honor of Rehm. He has ordered a bronze plaque inscribed with the words “In Loving Memory of Harry Rehm who went missing in action during the Korean War,” that will be positioned on the building between the two flag poles.
Mattison spent between 30 and 35 hours on the project, which after it is approved by the local Boy Scout council, will fulfill the final requirement to become an Eagle Scout, the highest distinction in Scouting.
“The existing flagpole fell over and broke someone’s mirror and at the time I was looking for a project to do and it kind of fell in my lap,” Mattison said.
He said he and his father and several fellow Boy Scouts removed several bushes from in front of the Post, filled the hole with 70 bags of white marble chips and erected the fiberglass poles, which come equipped with solar powered lighting. They also replaced and painted the molding of a nearby window.
In order to pay for the project, Mattison drafted more than 50 letters which he sent to local business people seeking donations. He even sent letters to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney but neither responded. Fortunately, many others did, and Mattison was able to raise nearly $3,000 through fundraising events and donations. He said a lawn sale held last month was especially successful.
“I have to thank Erika and Neil Vaughn of Brown Dog Auction Company for donating so many items. Without their donations I would still be fundraising,” he said.
On Sunday, Mattison will deliver a speech about his project before the old flagpole is taken out of service and the new ones dedicated. An American flag and the POW-MIA flag will fly on one pole and an American Legion flag will fly on the other.
Mattison, who has been involved with Scouting since he was in second grade, said it hasn’t always been easy, but he’s glad he stuck with it.
“The idea of being an Eagle Scout and having that pride knowing that it’s something only four out of 10 Scouts ever get, it feels good,” he said.