ON THE ROAD – HONORING THE FALLEN
by Jan C. Scruggs
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund now has over 30,000 photographs of the soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam. We need these photographs to display in the Education Center at The Wall. Finding them is a nationwide challenge that depends on grassroots work done by interested and dedicated people, volunteers, who are willing to help. As we continue our work, it is clear that this is a journey into the heart of America. Our experiences are profound and there are stories that are both emotionally moving and inspiring. We have seen a lot of people and we need to tell these stories to you, the reader.
Let me start with Mississippi. We arrived on a very hot summer day in Jackson, the state Capital. In the deep south, there has always been a strong bond with the military and a deep reverence for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Mississippians had the early vision of remembering not just the names of their fallen brothers, but their faces as well. In 1995 a memorial was dedicated in Ocean Springs, Mississippi adorned with the faces of all 637 Mississippi casualties from the Vietnam War.
Last July, VVMF partnered with the Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial and received the photos of nearly all 637 of their fallen for inclusion in the Education Center at The Wall. President of the MVVM, Dick Wilson, presented the photos during a somber event at the Mississippi War Memorial building in Jackson.
We were joined by the Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard, veteran leaders from all levels of state government, the heads of the major veteran’s service organizations, and even a large contingent of Vietnam veterans from the local VA medical center.
Of particular note, Barbra Jacobs traveled from Booneville (nearly 200 miles) to submit a photo of her husband, SGT Kenneth B. Carpenter.
For this dedicated group of supporters, we premiered our latest video highlighting the planned exhibits of the Education Center. With new friends and partners, we left Mississippi knowing that our message was building momentum throughout the country.
When you think about it, it really is incredible that people will give up their time and make a trip – even great distances – to be a part of this grassroots effort. In Somerset, Kentucky in May, we were joined by U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers who, like us, traveled from Washington, D.C, to be a part of the event. While there, we met some great people and heard some very powerful and moving stories.
In addition to singing The National Anthem at the Call for Photos event, Claude Davis came with a photo and a specific mission. He was determined to find the name of his friend and fallen comrade, James Jenkins.
With a voice shaking at times with emotion, he told us the story of a man whose name is on The Wall in a place that should’ve been reserved for him.
“I was standing watch, and I couldn’t keep awake,” he said, his voice shaking at times with emotion. “I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”
Shortly thereafter, his unit came under attack by mortar rounds. Corporal Jenkins died in that foxhole in Vietnam within moments of Davis stepping away from his combat post to catch a short nap.
We also listened to Brigadier General Dan Cherry, USAF (Ret.), a Vietnam veteran, who shared his emotional story of healing and reconciliation. In an intense dogfight over the skies near Hanoi, North Vietnam, Cherry carried out a successful mission in his F-4 Phantom shooting down a North Vietnamese MiG-21. Nearly 40 years after that mission, Cherry was reunited with the North Vietnamese pilot, and the two became friends.
Grassroots efforts often start at the grasstops, and it is always a good idea to have friends in high places. That’s why we made our way across the country and found ourselves in the beautiful state of Washington. On October 7, we climbed the steps of the State Legislative Building in Olympia because Governor Gregoire had formally joined 22 other governors in statewide efforts to provide ideas, recruit supporters and lead grassroots efforts to raise awareness and gather photos. The Governor got things underway by introducing us to two very important allies, First Gentleman Mike Gregoire, and John Lee, Washington’s Director Veterans Affairs. Both of these guys are Vietnam veterans, and know how to get things done.
While we were there, family and friends brought in nearly a dozen photos.
John Bastian of the Quinault Indian Tribe brought a photo of his brother, Roger Saux, who was an Army “tunnel rat” in Vietnam. He was the only member of the tribe killed in Vietnam. Now the reservation’s Indian Health Care Center is named for him.
Washington state still has a way to go in building there collection of photos, but they have gathered almost 600 already, and are over halfway there.
Across the country, we still have about 28,000 pictures to find. But we plan to keep doing our part by meeting with and being inspired by the grassroots volunteers who are going to make this project happen. When all is said and done, we will owe a debt of gratitude to those people who are willing to share of themselves and make sure we build the Education Center at The Wall…the place on our National Mall where our heroes stories and sacrifice will NEVER be forgotten.
Please take a moment to get involved. Find a photo and send it along with a donation to www.buildthecenter.org.