Commemorative chair in Fayette County Courthouse dedicated to POW/MIA
Dorothy Neville has been waiting 66 years for her brother to return home.
John H. Fette of Connellsville was a Navy pilot when the Russians shot down his aircraft over the Baltic Sea in 1950, said Neville, who lives in Hempfield.
“The Russians said it was going over their territory,” said Neville, 93. “They admitted they shot it down, but they refused to allow us into their archives, and they won't tell us if any of the men were ever recovered, or where their bodies were interred.”
A first lieutenant, Fette, 29, was piloting a Navy PB4Y-1 Liberator on April 8, 1950, when the aircraft was shot down during the Cold War, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The agency lists him among 83,000 U.S. service members who have been missing since World War II.
Neville has never forgotten her brother, and now visitors to the Fayette County Courthouse will have a daily reminder of all service members who remain missing: A POW/MIA commemorative chair on the first floor of the courthouse was dedicated Wednesday.
Sponsored by the Fayette County chapter of the national veterans advocacy group Rolling Thunder, the chair is similar to others that have been placed in public and private buildings nationwide to call attention to the nation's missing military members.
“These guys are still away, missing from their families, and we have to remember them,” said Marty Johnson of Uniontown, a retired Army master sergeant who is a member of Fayette's Rolling Thunder Chapter 5 PA.
“You've heard all gave some, some gave all?” Johnson said. “These men and women gave all.”
Flanked by the nation's flag and one bearing the POW/MIA symbol, the black folding chair is roped off and positioned near the elevators and the Recorder of Deeds Office. It bears the “POW/MIA You Are Not Forgotten” symbol and notes that the “unoccupied seat” is dedicated to the memory of the men and women who served but never returned home.
According to the POW/MIA accounting agency, the missing service members from Pennsylvania include 4,753 who served in World War II; 565 who served in Korea; 90 in Vietnam; and 15 during the Cold War. Among those the agency lists as missing from Fayette County are Fette and Samuel Dale Shimek, a Uniontown man who was killed in action in Vietnam.
Clarence Fisher, president of Rolling Thunder's Fayette chapter, said the position near the courthouse entrance was selected because of its high visibility.
“We told them we wanted it somewhere where it could be seen,” Fisher said. “We didn't want it stuck in a corner somewhere.”
Rolling Thunder paid for the display and will be responsible for its upkeep, Fisher said.
Among those who attended the dedication ceremony was John Kapel, a Vietnam veteran from Uniontown.
“There are still people out there, missing, from the first World War, the second World War, Vietnam and so on,” Kapel said. “We need to get them home.”
Neville said the Navy never determined her brother's fate. She said she has heard numerous stories: Some witnesses claimed some of the men survived the crash, and others said the entire crew drowned.
She said she has never given up hope that the Navy will uncover the details of her brother's death, recover his remains and return them to Pennsylvania.
“They are still trying to find out what happened,” Neville said. “We keep hoping they will find the remains and bring them home, and we can bury them here.”
Liz Zemba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-601-2166.