Recently, it started as a heartfelt letter to Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson from someone who wanted to honor the memory of one local POW – a friend from high school. Now, it has turned into a search for more soldiers who have a local connection so a POW memorial can be funded, created and placed in a municipal park.
Mike J. Liles of Murfreesboro, Tennessee wrote in January 2020 with an idea to honor the late Steven Jay Robin, a Gulfport resident who served on the USS Pueblo in 1968 during the Vietnam War. Liles and Robin both graduated from Plant High School in Tampa in 1964 and afterward, they joined the Navy.
The North Korean Navy attacked the Pueblo on January 23, 1968 and crewmembers that survived were captured then held as POWs in a prison camp for 11 months. The incident is chronicled in a book entitled “The Last Voyage of the USS Pueblo” by Ed Brandt that was first published by Norton in 1969.
According to Liles, Robin died on July 28, 2008 at Bay Pines Veterans Hospital.
Liles recently visited Gulfport and got the idea to create a memorial to honor his friend, said Councilmember Michael Fridovich who is also a veteran. Fridovich has made the local POW memorial idea his personal mission.
“I figured before I went ahead and tried to do something for one, I want to see if we have more people who have a Gulfport connection that were POWs,” said Fridovich.
By the end of May, Fridovich is asking the public to provide him the names of local POWs for inclusion on a memorial that he would like to see located in Veteran’s Park.
“Step one is getting the names,” he said. “Step two will be about deciding if the memorial will be a plaque or a granite marker, where it will be located and how it will be funded.”
In his letter, Liles has pledged to contribute $2,500 to the cost of the effort.
“At the moment, I’m starting this project on my own,” said Fridovich. “Now, if a non-profit wants to help, especially one related to veterans, obviously that would be even better.”
At the February 4 regular council meeting, Fridovich read a portion of Liles’ letter during his announcements portion of the meeting and received a favorable response to the memorial idea from other councilmembers.
“Once I know how many names we’ve got, then I’m going to go to city council and formally ask them to okay putting it in Veteran’s Park,” said Fridovich.
To contact Fridovich, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.