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August 16, 2013

Traveling Vietnam Wall in Clarksville offers remembrance, reflection

Exhibit at Clarksville Town Hall is closest many will come to the real memorial

CLARKSVILLE — Two weeks before he signed a waiver to go into the military, Brad Hammond’s brother was killed in Vietnam.

Hammond would have been the fifth of four brothers to go and fight in the war, but his mom asked him to wait and think about it before he signed the form bypassing the Sole Survivor Policy, which would have allowed him to serve.

The last day of the two-week wait, Hammond was notified that his brother was killed in action. Before the war was over, another brother would be killed in the Vietnam War.

To reflect and remember, Hammond sits and pays his respects to his brothers each day in Clarksville at the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall. It’s the closest he’s gotten to the real thing.

“I’m going to before I get up out of this world, or I at least hope to,” he said of going to see the monument in Washington, D.C.

But he said he appreciates the eight-to-10 hours he spends at the wall, and also helping others find the names of their loved ones etched into the replica granite. He enjoys doing it because so many people will never be able to go to Washington D.C.

“Each one of these names, each one of these people gave their lives, there’s a family behind each one of [these names] and that’s why we can do what we do now,” Hammond said. “If we let it go, then it’s almost like letting go of them. We can’t ever forget them.”

Hammond along with thousands of others are expected to visit the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall this weekend. The 80 percent replica of the wall, along with memorials of John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame, a replica of World War II war hero Audie Murphy’s gravestone, a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a 9/11 memorial are on display in front of the Clarksville Town Hall.

The event was organized by the Indiana Salute to Veterans. And one of the organizers, Greg Alexander, said he had no idea how much it meant to the veterans and families of veterans in the area.

“I did not even dream it was that important to them,” he said. “You can see the hands-on emotion. You can tell it means a lot to a lot of people.”

Two of those who traveled from Harrison County to see the wall were Bob and Barb Crosier. The couple had relatives that served in Vietnam and has yet to make it to Washington, D.C.

“It’s the greatest thing,” Barb Crosier said about the wall traveling to them.

Others came upon the wall by happenstance, including Army reserve specialist Jeremy Turley.

The Washington, D.C., transplant, who just moved to Cincinnati, was looking for a place to keep up with his reserve training. He found a Clarksville unit where he could continue his reserve training, for now. And when he arrived, the wall was erected.

“I spent the last year-and-a-half living a few blocks from the wall, and me and my wife would go and volunteer at the wall,” he said. “This is awesome. If this is as close as you’ve ever gotten, I can’t imagine how moving it is to come right down the street and get to do something [like this].”

Later in the evening, more than 100 people gathered in front of the memorial to hear Retired United States Air Force Brigadier General Michael Dornbush and Gary Roedemeier, a Vietnam veteran and former anchor for WHAS-TV in Louisville, host an opening ceremony.

“So many Americans across this great nation never get a chance to visit Washington, D.C., and walk the Malls and to physically see our great memorials that represent all the tremendous deeds of the men and women throughout our military history,” Dornbush said.

Though he did not see action in Vietnam, Dornbush, who entered the military in 1972, said he served with many who actively served in the war.

“This memorial, more than any other, has been significant to me,” he said. “I saw, firsthand, the difficulties of these veterans of Vietnam faced. I saw many Vietnam veterans experience the indifference of a nation as a whole towards this war’s efforts. Only in recent years have we seemed to have come to grips with acknowledging those efforts and giving them their just due.”

It was something Turley agreed with and said has impacted how soldiers are treated today.

“I don’t expect to get thank you for [my] service,” he said. “I wonder if I would’ve had the guts to do it back then, because I read about it — it was tough.”

When Turley came home from Iraq after serving a tour in 2005 he said he and his unit flew into Indianapolis. When they walked into the terminal, a volleyball team waiting to board a plane started clapping for the soldiers. By the time Turley and his unit made their way through the terminal, the entire airport was clapping for them.

“It was like the coolest thing that ever happened to me in my life,” he said. “I talk to these guys and I tell them that, ‘I just want you guys to know this is where we’ve gotten.’”

Roedemeier, during his speech, discussed his time serving in Vietnam, but asked the audience to remember another group of people whose names are not on the Vietnam Memorial. People like his friend William F. Dodge, who he served with.

Roedemeier said Dodge’s tour extended beyond his own and his friend began serving on patrol boats on the inlets and rivers of Vietnam. He made it out of Vietnam, but had health difficulties later in life and eventually died of cancer.

“During that time, we believe Bill was exposed to Agent Orange,” Roedemeier said. “He was another delayed victim of the Vietnam War. A warrior, who gave his time and eventually gave his life because he served in the U.S. Navy in that dangerous time and was exposed to a dangerous chemical. How many Bill Dodge’s are there out there?” he asked.

Roedemeier pointed to the disappearing generation that fought in World War II and said the Vietnam veterans are also aging and disappearing. But he asked to remember those who served in the war.

“I want you to give special thought as you walk around this wall, not just to those names on the wall, but to the veterans that have passed away since then that were related to the war,” he said. “Please do not forget us, we served well, we served you in Vietnam, we are still here.”

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Students of the Renaissance Academy's inaugural freshman class placed the final piece of the puzzle on a presentation board at the opening ceremony in Clarksville Tuesday morning. The students, or learners as termed by the RA, will play an integral role in their own education, using hands-on and project based curriculum to learn new information.

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