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New England News

Berkshire Tour Honors POWs/MIAs, Servicemembers And Veterans

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A “Chair of Honor” tour began in Lenox, Massachusetts Friday morning to honor American POWs and those missing in action. The tour will involve more than 20 towns in Berkshire and Hampden counties.

“Bill’s jet was hit with a ground to air missile over North Vietnam in 1966,” Coakley said. “They flew search and recovery for three days. The pilots had a beeper they could activate, but there was no activation. They flew in pairs. The pilot in the other jet who flew alongside Bill said with the explosion there was no way anyone would survive.”

Bob Coakley’s brother, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Coakley, was considered missing in action until his remains returned home to Lenox in 1989. For 23 years, Coakley says his family experienced a living nightmare that never went away, but their greatest fear was that Bill had been captured.

“It was such a relief for my mother that she lived to know as she said ‘At least now I know my boy is home,” recalled Coakley.

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli purchased a chair from the POW/MIA Chair of Honor Program. Named after his father’s best friend who died during World War II, Pignatelli decided to start the tour in Lenox because of the Coakley family.

“I think this chair of honor is paying tribute to the Bill Coakley’s of the world of which there are over 91,000 POW/MIAs since World War I alone that we are trying to pay tribute and homage to that we should never forget them,” State Representative Smitty Pignatelli said.   “Even though our soldiers are not here, they’ll always have a seat when they do get home.”

Bob Coakley’s grandson, Lance Cpl. Roger Muchnick Jr., is buried next to Bill Coakley at St. Ann’s Cemetery in Lenox. The 23-year-old Muchnick was one of seven Marines killed in March 2013 when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise in Nevada. Growing up in Westport, Connecticut, Muchnick spent a lot of time in Lenox, according to his grandfather.

“He and I were great buddies,” Coakley said. “We raised Morgan horses on our farm here and he loved it. We had a farm pond that I always kept stocked with farm. So he was here constantly.”

A 2008 graduate of Staples High School, Muchnick did tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. Coakley says his grandson, known as “RJ,” was training in California for another deployment to Afghanistan when he got a call from him before his unit went to Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada.

“He said ‘Grampy we’re going to four days of artillery training,’” Coakley recalled. “Then I heard over the radio that seven Marines were killed in a training accident in Nevada. My hearing isn’t all that good. And I thought ‘Oh, thank God RJ is in California.’ But when I came home my wife said RJ had been killed.”

Pignatelli plans to take the chair to the more than 20 towns in Berkshire and Hampden counties. He plans to return to Lenox and donate the chair to the town’s VFW Post around Veteran’s Day in November.

“I think the stories of the MIAs, the POWS and the causalities of war need to be taught to the next generation because once those families pass away the stories pass away with them and we need to keep that going forward,” said Pignatelli.

Coakley says it’s fitting his brother and his grandson are resting next to each other.

“He so admired my brother Bill,” Coakley said. “Had Bill ever known him, he’d admired RJ.”