by Cori Hilsgen
Freedom Flight POW/MIA, a group that honors and tries to increase awareness of soldiers missing in action or prisoners of war, is asking for help in locating equipment worth thousands of dollars that was recently stolen.
President Luke Cesnik said someone broke into their trailers at the McKay’s Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram FIAT car dealership in Waite Park Nov. 18 or 19 and stole two Honda fan/engine units (10 h.p. and 13 h.p.) on custom stands with wheels (used for pre-inflating the hot air balloons), an Aerostar Zone V hot-air balloon burner (serial #HP3D-3133) and more worth more than $10,000.
The group’s travel trailer was also stolen this past summer but was later located.
“All we do is honor our U.S. military veterans and raise awareness about those who are still prisoners of war or missing in action,” Cesnik said in a news release. “Why would anyone do such a thing? This is a serious setback to our volunteer efforts.”
The stolen equipment helps fly hot-air balloons, which the organization uses to create awareness of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Some events include a single balloon and others include several balloons.
During the events, the group works to educate people about the POW-MIA issue and hands out informational cards with up-to-date numbers of how many are still missing.
The group is currently looking for warehouse storage space for its five trailers and two pick-up trucks.
Fortunately, Cesnik said the group will not have to cancel any upcoming appearances.
Cesnik, a former Sartell resident who now lives in St. Cloud, served in the U.S. Air Force as a patrol-dog handler at U-Tapao and U-Bon, Thailand during the Vietnam War.
Freedom Flight Inc. is a non-profit educational corporation established in 1988. The group includes many dedicated volunteers who donate their time and money to fly POW/MIA hot-air balloons at events across the United States and world.
Founder Dr. Jim Tuorilla believed a hot-air balloon would be a good way to gain media attention to publicize the fact American soldiers have been reported to still be alive in foreign countries.
The group is committed to educating the public about the country’s prisoners of war/missing in action and encourages people to ask questions, seek answers and demand the return of all held captive in foreign countries and all those unaccounted for.
The group is asking for the public’s help to report any suspicious activity anyone might have noticed in and around the McKay’s Family Dodge property.
The Waite Park Police Department is investigating the theft. Anyone with information is asked to contact the department at 320-251-3281.
Tri-County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the theft. Anyone with information can anonymously leave a message at the tip line at 1-800-255-1301.
For Freedom Flight’s scheduled events, visit freedomflight.org/allschedules.