Traveling Wall Comes to Salem

October 24, 2014

by Doug Micklon, Commander, Salem American Legion Post 63Fifty-eight thousand, three hundred.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol of America’s honor and recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. Inscribed on the black granite walls are the names of 58,300 men and women who gave their lives or are listed as MIA. Yet, the memorial itself is dedicated to honor the ‘courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country’ of all who answered the call to serve during the longest war in U.S. history.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., a non-profit organization, was authorized by Congress in 1980 to fund and build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was to be a tangible symbol of recognition from the American people for those who served in the war.

Congress enacted legislation providing three acres in the northwest corner of the National Mall as a site for the Memorial and it was finally dedicated 32 years ago on November 13, 1982.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Some veterans and their political supporters felt that The Wall was a “giant tombstone.” It was too abstract a design for others who wanted a more heroic, life-like depiction of a soldier. To meet these concerns, it was decided that a traditional statue would be added as an integral part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Two years after The Wall’s completion in 1984 a statue of The Three Servicemen was unveiled.

If you have the opportunity to travel to our Nation’s Capital you will also see:

The Woman’s Vietnam Memorial dedicated in 1993 to honor the 10,000 women that served in country during the conflict.

Also, the In Memory Plaque authorized by Congress to be added to the three-acre Memorial site on the National Mall that was dedicated in 2004. This plaque is intended to honor those who have died after service in Vietnam but are not eligible for placement on The Wall due to Department of Defense policies.

The inscription reads:

“In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”

Decades after the wall’s dedication, at The Wall, Americans continue to reflect on the conflicts of the Vietnam Era and personal feelings.

Numbers certainly do not tell the whole story, nor or all of them. But they certainly paint a picture of lives lost and families devastated. Here are just a few:

  • More than half of the people listed on The Wall are under 22.

-Dan Bullock from Goldsboro, North Carolina, was 14 years old. He altered the date on his birth certificate to show he was born December 21, 1949. Processed through the recruiting station, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on September 18, 1968. Bullock arrived in Vietnam on May 18, 1969, and was assigned as a rifleman and stationed at An Hoa Combat Base where 20 days later, on June 7, 1969, he was killed instantly by small arms fire during a North Vietnamese night attack while making an ammunition run to resupply his beleaguered unit. Private First Class Dan Bullock was 15 years old.

  • The oldest person on The Wall is Dwaine McGriff from Cullman, Alabama: 63 years old, killed in action September 7, 1970.
  • The names of eight women appear on The Wall.
  • The number of those killed on their first day in Vietnam: 997.
  • Soldiers killed on what was to their last tour of duty day in Vietnam: 1,448.

 

In the last battle and the end of the Vietnam War, a U.S. merchant ship was seized by Cambodian Khmer Rouge troops.

On May 15, 1975, the Marines attacked tiny Koh Tang island where the U.S. merchant ship crew was mistakenly believed to be held. A fierce 14-hour battle ensued. The last American soldier killed in action during the Vietnam War was Kelton Rena Turner, an 18-year old Marine, killed in action May 15, 1975, two weeks after the evacuation of Saigon.

When the Marines pulled out under heavy fire and in darkness, three Marines were inadvertently left behind: Lance Corporal Joseph N. Hargrove from Mount Olive, North Carolina; Private Danny G. Marshall from Waverly, West Virginia; and Private First Class Gary Lee Hall of Covington, Kentucky. It was later discovered that all three were captured and executed.

Today it is with honor and respect that we remember not only our Salem Vietnam Veterans.

Robert Bernard Mann, age 22, killed in action July 11, 1966.

James Norman Finn, age 35, killed in action November 4, 1966.

Danny Eric Goodwin, age 20, killed in action August 24, 1967.

William Nicholas Loomis, age 18, killed in action September 13, 1967.

Thomas Wilfred Gaudet, age 21, killed in action April 21, 1969.

Russell William Wendler, age 20, killed in action February 17, 1969.

But today we remember and grieve with the families of all our young men and women that gave the ultimate sacrifice so we may continue to be a free people and a free nation.

We have gone almost full circle from World War II when we celebrated with parades for our American heroes when they returned home. Our returning Vietnam vets were thrown into civilian life just days from a killing zone and having some of them spat upon when they came home. My generation will not allow this to happen to our men and women returning home today. We continually send them many boxes of items from home that they can use to try make their life just a bit better. We meet them when then return and greet them with a hug and a heartfelt and sincere “Welcome home buddy!” For those that have returned home and that need it, we are right here to give you our helping hand.

My fellow comrades, thank you for a job well done and welcome home.