By ROB W. ANDERSON
In the mind of a Vietnam veteran, a visit to the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall calls up memories of a time in the nation’s history that was riddled with domestic and foreign conflict. It reminds others of friends or family lost to the ravages of war.
The wall stands as a testament to the axiom that individual freedoms come at a significant cost. More than 58,000 names pay tribute to those who died or are still missing in Southeast Asia. And even after nearly four decades, emotions can still be raw, and tears can well up unexpectedly in the eyes of those who stand humbly before the smooth, black panels.
The opening ceremony for the traveling Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, a three-quarter replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was held April 18 on Sequoyah Schools’ football field. Area veterans, their families, friends, local and area dignitaries, and supporters of the U.S. military, gathered to show their respect for the fallen and to honor their memory.
These heroes should never be forgotten, said retired Tulsa police officer and Vietnam veteran Keith Welch.
“The worst thing is not getting killed over in Vietnam. The worst thing is to be forgotten,” he said. “That wall represents the people who made the ultimate sacrifice. This is to keep history alive.”
Former Sen. Jim Wilson, also a Vietnam veteran, was master of ceremonies. Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden, another Vietnam veteran, was keynote speaker. Other dignitaries included Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah; Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee; Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols; Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker; and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma Chief George Wickliffe. Nichols read the names of the fallen soldiers from Cherokee County.
Vietnam veteran Roy Blackfox was a tank driver during the war, and was searching for the name of his friend, Erskine Logan Crump, as well as the names of family members who were killed in Vietnam.
“All of these names here, they’re human beings, and I know some of them who we left back there,” he said. “I know the Bible says there’s no such thing as luck, but maybe they’ll all get to come home like some of us did.”
Pat Cochran hopes the generations of today learn about the men who fought and died in the Vietnam War.
“It’s amazing to me all these lives they gave. I’m sure they didn’t want to be there, but they gave the commitment to serve their country,” she said. “I’m thankful for these guys. I know they didn’t get much of an applause when they came home. It needs to be taught what these men did for this country.”
Massachusetts Marine veteran William Havalottie, who drives the semi-truck that carries the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall, noted the duty was a way to honor the fallen soldiers.
“The wall sets up at 240 feet long. The youngest one on the wall is 15 years old. He lied and went into the Marine Corps. The oldest is 66,” he said. “There are eight women on that wall who got killed over there, too. They were nurses, officers.”
For Havalottie, it’s a pleasure to transport the wall all over the country for the people to see.
“I was in that era of Vietnam, but never got over there. So this is my respect getting back to them for the freedom we have,” he said.
Area U.S. Army Veteran Jesse Butler served during the Vietnam era and has volunteered at 14 locations where the traveling wall was on display.
“The guy I’ve always done this in memory of is Larry John Malloy. He was killed July 26, 1967. His name is located at 24-E, 11-3,” he said. “It’s been very emotional. I had one lady come looking for a name. She had lost a guy she was dating, and she commented to me with tears in her eyes. She said, ‘I left my good husband on the wall.’”
The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall can be viewed 24 hours a day through Sunday, April 21, at Sequoyah Schools football field
Anyone visiting the wall may leave memorabilia, pictures, mementos, anything of the like to honor a fallen soldier. The items will be collected and later buried at the Tahlequah City Cemetery.