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September 15, 2012

STORIES FROM THE WALL: Vets, other visitors find meaning beyond just the names

CLARKSVILLE — American flags lined the path that Jeffersonville resident Charlie White walked on Thursday. He stood in quiet contemplation in front of the black wall, gazing at the many names engraved on it and listening to the names of those lost echoing overhead.

A World War II Navy veteran, White understands the meaning of the words sacrifice and remembrance.

“I wouldn’t miss this event,” White said. “They did not have an appreciation of Vietnam. It was misunderstood and the guys coming home did not have much of the parade and ceremonies that they had after WW II.”

Other visitors strolled along the same route in front of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall outside of the Clarksville Municipal Building this past week. Some were wearing their dress blues. Many donned caps that told of their military service. A few had canes; still fewer were pushed in wheelchairs. All ages, both veterans and civilian, came to this place of homage to pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for their country.

Resting on a bench at the site, Army veteran Dennis Lawrence reminisced about his one-year tour in Vietnam. He said he had several friends on the wall, but choose not to locate their names.

“I just don’t look their names up. If I do, I’m going to bawl like a baby. They’re all my brothers and sisters. It’s just like a family,” Lawrence said.

He remembered a time when Vietnam War veterans didn’t always receive respect. When the Fairdale, Ky., resident returned home after his service, a young boy, in the presence of his father, approached him and said that he didn’t like his military hat. Lawrence replied he didn’t like the boy’s attitude.

“When we went over, it was an unliked war,” Lawrence said. “When I came home, I got spit on, called baby killer and all that stuff. That’s just the way it goes. You didn’t get anything when you came back. [You were] talked to like you was a dog.”

Around the time of the first war in Iraq, Lawrence noticed a change in attitude about Vietnam among the American people.

“Now we get more respect, but the idea is to the point that I don’t care what they say,” he said. “I know what I did. I know I had to do it. I went and done it. I consider myself mighty lucky.

“I had a lot to do with this, and it hurt. But it’s another day.”

Gunnery Sgt. Donita G. Pruitt brought her young grandson, Josiah, to see the wall. After 21 years of active duty in the Marine Corps, the Louisville resident retired. She served during Vietnam, but never traveled to the country that housed the Southeast Asian conflict. She didn’t know anyone whose name appeared on the wall, but she said she saw the aftermath of the war in those who returned.

“I know some who could have been [on the wall]. I know a lot of guys who came back and they were lost once they got back; the things that happened over there,” Pruitt said. “Veterans haven’t been the most popular people, especially the Vietnam veterans. They were never popular until the first desert war. And then the Vietnam veterans started to become acknowledged some 25 years later. They’re getting the recognition they deserve.”

Jeffersonville resident Sue Dorsey came to the wall to show her daughter, Sarah Nix, the name of her cousin who was killed in Vietnam. Honored on panel 10W, row 75, Palmyra resident and Army serviceman Thomas Anthony Gowers, known as Tag, died in Tuyen Duc Province on May 21, 1970. Dorsey still remembers the last time she spoke to her cousin.

“All these years and it’s still like yesterday because I can remember the last conversation before he left and it haunts me to this day,” she said. “When he left, he knew he wasn’t coming back. He told us that, and he didn’t. When he came back, he came back home in a box.”

Dorsey, who has seen the traveling wall one other time, said she was glad the memorial came to the area again.

“I’ve been waiting for this wall to come back around so that I could find him one more time,” she said. “I love when they do this because so many people have never gotten to see those names on that wall. And then, when you see them, reality really smacks you real hard.”

Charlestown native Scott Woods knows a thing or two about the reality of military life. From 1994 to 1998, he served active duty as a Marine. He and his daughter walked the periphery of the memorial, visiting the statues that venerated service men and women from other wars.

“The Vietnam Memorial is my personal favorite just because of what it represents. It doesn’t only represent the 58,000 lives we lost. It also represents a war that was fought for brothers and not for a cause, in my opinion. The gentlemen on that wall fought for each other,” Woods said.

He said that same spirit continues in those who serve today.

“In the Marine Corps we did the same. Anywhere we went; it wasn’t about why are we here. You fight for the guy standing next to you. Man, woman, black, white, red, yellow or whatever,” he said. “And that’s the great thing about the service. There’s no color. There’s no race. It doesn’t matter. When your there, you fight for each other no matter who it is.”

**************

SO YOU KNOW

• The American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall will remain on display through Sunday at the Clarksville town campus. The retrieval of colors will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday’s keynote speaker is William C. Grimes, colonel, U.S. Army (retired)

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Theater students rehearse a scene from "Seussical the Musical," directed by Silver Creek Theater Director, Alonzo Richmond, and New Albany Theater Director Amy Harpenau at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater Thursday evening. The musical includes around 70 students from 12 local schools that will be performing Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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