Lieutenant Colonel James "Gabby" Gates was honored on Monday with a wreath laying ceremony at Mer Rouge Cemetery atop Red Hill.
An outreach group from the Run for the Wall, Southern Route cross country POW/MIA mission rode through Bastrop to remember Gates. Gates has been listed as missing in action since April 6, 1966 after his aircraft was brought down by ground fire during a visual reconnaissance mission over Saravane Province, Laos.
According to a Run for the Wall 2014, Southern Route press release, Gates appeared on the USG's "Last Known Alive" list that was originally compiled in 1991. An observer in the aircraft with him, John Lafayette, was not listed, so Gates' family is left waiting for an answer.
At the ceremony, a wreath was posted at the memorial stone the family of James Gates had placed at Mer Rouge Cemetery. Prayers were said, and the Run for the Wall outreach group visited with Ann Patterson and Jean Blackard, nieces of Gates, and Dawson Blackard, great-nephew, to remind them that their uncle was not forgotten.
"We just appreciate it [RFTW] so much," Patterson said. "My mother raised him. He was like a brother to us. He lived with us. She kept on hoping they would find something she could bury. After she and my father passed away, we did the memorial stone."
The stop in Morehouse Parish is part of an outreach program that allows a portion of the larger Run for the Wall group to break off and visit with families at the local level.
"We're with the outreach program. This is the third outreach we've done," Mark Masman, Honor Guard Coordinator, said. "We have a total of five outreaches. It's to get out to the families who can't make it out to the run. It's for the families and places that are right off the route that you can't take 400 motorcycles to. [We] let the families know that they are not forgotten. There are people who still remember, who are still trying to support them. We had a comment at one a couple of days ago. The family had said 'Just when we think we are alone, someone comes in and helps us out to help remember that they are not forgotten.'"
According to Karoni Forrester, Outreach Lead and Coordinator for the Southern Route, the Run for the Wall ride, which started in California and will end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is about honoring veterans and reminding everyone about those who remain missing in action.
"I just want to say what an honor it is for us to be able to ride across the country," Forrester said, "Honoring our veterans who served and raising awareness that there are 1642 Americans who are still missing in Southeast Asia, and that we really want to get answers for their families."
Forrester also related that the state of Louisiana has been very supportive of Run for the Wall
"The most touching thing for me about being a rider for Run for the Wall is the community support that we get," Forrester said. "The love that we have for all the communities that we travel through. Patriotism is alive and well in the heartland. Coming over from Texas into Louisiana, there were so many overpasses with so many people. Louisiana really came out strong. To look up and see so many people on those overpasses is just mind-blowing and very touching. I just want to say thank you to all the people in Louisiana that have come out to support us. It has been amazing."
Sara Hawkins, Morehouse Parish Sheriff's Office deputy, and Melissa Stringer, who works dispatch with the West Monroe Police Department, helped escort the group through Morehouse Parish.