The Richmond Register

Local News

April 27, 2012

‘The Wall That Heals’

Vietnam Memorial replica up until Sunday

RICHMOND — They spoke of courage, of wartime valor and of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War, but mostly they spoke reconciliation and healing.

About 250 people attended the opening ceremonies for a traveling replica of the Vietnam War memorial, dubbed “The Wall That Heals” at the EKU Center For The Arts on Thursday morning.

A number of those in the audience were Vietnam veterans and relatives of those who died in the war and whose names are inscribed on the wall.

Lisa Johnson, of Lexington, lost her father, Alvin T. Stahl in the conflict on March 14, 1969 when she was only six years old and living in Louisville.

She said her farther, a Navy medic, was shot and killed in the conflict. She said she has visited the memorial in Washington, D.C. three times and has seen the traveling display once in Danville and again in Richmond. She attended Thursday’s ceremony with her daughter, Jennifer, an accounting student at EKU.

Claude Shaw, of Winchester, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam and lost part of his leg when he was shot during a rescue mission to recover an U.S. Air Force pilot who had been shot down.

Shaw, a chief warrant officer IV, received the purple heart, distinguished flying cross, bronze star, distinguished service cross and 22 air medals during his 25 year Army career.

He said he’d only had a chance to see the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. briefly. His visit to the Richmond event was his first real chance to view the memorial in detail.

Robert Yerks, a retired lieutenant general who lives in Richmond, was one of several who spoke during the ceremony. He called the conflict, in which more than 58,000 gave their lives, “the unnoticed war,” remarking that the great majority of Americans were focused on political and racial strife at home as the war raged in Southeast Asia.

“We didn’t lose that war. It was unwinnable,” said Yerks, a veteran of the conflict. “We didn’t win it, but we didn’t lose it either.”

A number of speakers noted there were no parades for returning veterans, many of whom were vilified at the time and called names such as “war criminals” and baby killers.”

Lt. Col. Ralph Hudnall, chair of EKU’s military science department, called creation of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., “the beginning of a national apology,” adding that the memorial has gone a long way in bringing about the realization that “our warriors are merely doing their duty.”

Prof. Fred Ruppel, a Vietnam veteran who serves as faculty advisor to veterans at EKU, expressed similar sentiments.

Keynote speaker Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, who conceived the idea of building the memorial and was the driving force behind it, spoke briefly. He asked people to submit photos of those whose names are inscribed on the wall for a new  education center near the D.C. memorial that will help tell the story of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. He said about 30,000 pictures have been collected.

Those who wish to submit a photo, support the center or learn more about it can go to the website www.buildthecenter.org. Local people can also bring photos to the display, which runs through Sunday.

Other speakers included Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who called the visit of the memorial  to Richmond “a chance to come together and honor veterans, and a opportunity for people to learn more about the Vietnam War.”

Regina Crawford brought greetings from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who noted that the United States stands as “a beacon of freedom” because of the efforts of those who serve and have served in the military.

Other speakers included state Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond; state Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea; EKU President Doug Whitlock and representatives of the Center For The Performing Arts.

Brett Morris, a former Army officer who has headed EKU’s veterans programs and now is the university’s interim director of admissions, gave the introductions. Bob Vikers of Richmond, a former Army chaplain who retired as a lieutenant colonel, gave the invocation.

The St. Mark Children’s Choir sang “This Land Is Your Land” and “God Bless the USA.” Joyce Hall Wolf, EKU voice professor, sang “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The Rev. Robert Blythe sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and the national anthem was played by the Madison Central High School Wind Ensemble.

EKU’s award-winning ROTC Pershing Rifles team presented the colors and performed a drill demonstration. Debra F. Hoskins, executive director of the EKU Center for the Arts, read “Bivouac of the Dead” by Kentucky poet Theodore O’Hara.

The traveling display, located on the south lawn of the EKU Center For The Arts off the Eastern Bypass, will be open free of charge, 24 hours a day, through Sunday, April 29.

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