Natalie's Everyday Heroes: George Banda, Vietnam veteran, honors POWs and MIAs

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- From noon until 5 p.m. this Sunday, Aug. 22, the Marcus Performing Arts Center is hosting its first-ever "Heroes Day," honoring frontline workers, first responders and military veterans. It's an expansion of what is usually a Flag Day ceremony.

George Banda is a Vietnam veteran who will be honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action during the ceremony. He's done the moment of silence for a number of years, and his commitment to POWs and MIAs is something he's dedicated the last 50 years to.

We asked him what he sees when he looks at the U.S. flag waving over downtown Milwaukee.

"It means sacrifice, sacrifice," he said, sitting at a picnic table outside the Marcus Center. "It doesn't fly there by itself. There was a lot of sacrifice to have that flag up there."

Banda served a year in Vietnam as a combat medic in the 101st Airborne Division. That one year has shaped the last five decades.

"I don't know how I did it. Thinking back and I see 20-year-olds now, I go wow. What a responsibility," Banda said of that time in his life.

He survived the war and saved a lot of lives along the way.

"No matter where you get wounded, if you're 10 feet away from me or 100 feet away from me, I will come get you, and I did. That's a promise I always kept," he said with a serious look on his face.

But it's the ones he couldn't save who've inspired him.

"Tommy Teran out of Midland, Michigan," he said, not missing a beat. "In the battle, he might have been 15-20 feet from me and I could see him, he could see me. And we were doing what we had to do to survive."

But when the smoke cleared, Teran was missing.

"We set out patrols that whole day, the next day, the next week, a week later. For a month, we searched for him," Banda remembered.

It would be years before DNA confirmed Teran's body had been found.

"That wasn't until 1997 that remains were found in that area, and then in 2002 they were sent to Hawaii and the DNA, they were identified as being from Tommy Teran," Banda said.

Teran was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

"Every year I go down and visit and say hello and say, hey, we didn't forget you, here we are," Banda said.

Last year, Banda held his moment of silence virtually. It features a table set for one with a rose, and other items, each with special meaning.

"The candle is lit, symbolizing the upward reach of their unconquerable spirit," he said in a video recording.

This year, the moment of silence will be held in person during Heroes Day.

"It's going to be a full day, family and friends' day," said Anthony Smith, director of community engagement and inclusion at the Marcus Center.

The ceremony returns to the outdoor stage this year.

"We wanted to celebrate all of our first responders and frontline workers, along with our veterans," Smith said.

The Marcus Center has been part of the Milwaukee County War Memorial since 1969.

"It's been a dedicated war memorial since, and we honor and recognize veterans year over year," Smith explained.

The ceremony will also include a naturalization ceremony.

"We'll have 60 individuals in the center that's going to be sworn in as citizens of the United States," Smith said.

He has worked with Banda for years, and is glad they're able to get together again.

"He loves the community, he loves people, he's well-known, people love him," Smith said. "Anytime I call George for anything we're doing here, George is always willing to support us."

Banda-- a hero himself-- is not taking any of it for granted.

"I remember telling myself, I have to live a life worthy of their sacrifice," he said. "Here I am, more than 50 years later, how lucky and fortunate I am to be here, in the sun, the breeze from the lake."

For more information on Heroes Day, you can visit https://www.marcuscenter.org/show/heroes-day.

If you'd like to nominate someone for Natalie's Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.

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