By Ronnie Ellis
Register News Writer
FRANKFORT ― It’s a unique memorial, even for one dedicated to those who gave their lives in defense of the country.
The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial is designed with a sun dial in a way that its shadow touches the name of each fallen soldier on the anniversary of the soldier’s death.
Monday, Veterans Day, Carlos Pugh of Frankfort stood near the sun dial reading names of those he’d known.
“I knew a couple of them here,” said Pugh, the past state commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. “They came through the unit I was in, there in the Tet Offensive.”
Pugh was a sergeant first class at Plako, Vietnam, near the end of January 1968 during the Tet Offensive, a series of surprise attacks by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during a previously announced cease fire to observe the Tet Lunar New Year.
“That was a really rough night that night,” Pugh said, staring at the names of a couple of the 1,103 Kentuckians who died in the war.
Pugh was one of about 100 veterans, family members and those who came to honor them Monday at the memorial in Frankfort designed by Helm Roberts and opened 25 years ago on Nov. 7, 1987.
Keynote speaker Gov. Steve Beshear called the site “exquisite,” one of the most beautiful and most carefully planned in the nation. He was there to honor those who have served their country.
“I am incredibly proud and in awe of the contributions that our Kentucky soldiers have made to this nation’s military history,” Beshear said. “We have never shrunk from the call to take up arms to fight this nation’s wars, no matter what harsh landscape we’ve been sent to.”
Kentucky has 334,000 veterans, about 118,000 of them who served in Vietnam, a war that claimed more than 58,000 American lives and 1,103 Kentuckians’ lives. It was a war which divided the nation, inflicting national wounds, some of which remain open today, and a war in which returning veterans were often scorned by those who opposed the war.
Many of those veterans, now in their 60s and 70s, now belatedly feel the respect and honor they felt was missing 40 or more years ago. Some, like Pugh, gathered Monday on the site, moving slowly around the sun dial, reading the names carved into the 27 cut granite stone panels.
Some read the engraved passage from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, which begins “For everything there is a season, and A time for every matter under heaven” and concludes with “A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time for peace,” scriptural verses that also were used as lyrics of a protest song of the era.
There was no protest Monday, only honor for those who gave when their country asked them to give.
Beshear said the moving memorial site is “a measure of distance from the peace and humanity that we all strive for” and a place “saturated with grief.”
“But this is also a place that symbolizes not only loss and suffering but also courage and honor, commitment and strength,” Beshear continued. “We are comforted by knowing that there are brave men and women who have the courage to stand up for the ideas and the ideals on which this great country of ours is founded: democracy, freedom, quality of life and justice.”
The formal ceremony concluded with those present singing “America the Beautiful,” followed by the mournful notes of a lone soldier on the hill playing “Taps” on a bugle.
As the notes wafted through the crisp November air, Pugh stood at attention and saluted, no doubt also remembering that “really rough night” in Plako 45 years ago and those who didn’t come home.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.