Vietnam Veterans Memorial traveling replica on display through Sunday

BROWNSTOWN — For Lee P. McCory, serving his country in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War was very special.

He said he was proud to be drafted, and he’s proud of his service.

Considering more than 58,200 American service members lost their lives during the war, he said one thing bothers him.

“It just irritated me to see young people that weren’t drafted that needed to get into the service, but no, they desert and go to Canada and live in Canada until the war is over,” he said.

Then when members of the U.S. military returned home, they were treated bad by those who were against the war.

On Thursday morning, McCory and his wife, Jill, traveled from their home in Brownstown to the Jackson County Fairgrounds to view The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Shortly after walking up to the wall, it made Lee emotional. He hasn’t had the opportunity to go to the nation’s capital to see the memorial, so having the replica visit locally was the next-best thing.

“It’s amazing. It’s hard to talk about,” he said. “A lot of these people gave their lives to protect us for our country. Them run off and desert us, a lot of them, that’s one of the worst things that hurts me.”

His brother, James Curtis McCory, served on the front lines six months after he left Vietnam. His younger brother, Kenneth Dale McCory, retired from the Army and his last tour of duty was in Afghanistan. Their father was in the Army, too, so the family has a lot to be proud of.

“It’s a long time coming,” Jill said of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated in November 1982. “I think they should have done something long before they did. I was in Washington, but it was before they put the wall up. When I was a kid, we went there, and I saw all of the memorials.”

Around the time the McCorys were looking at the wall, the opening ceremony for The Wall That Heals’ arrival in Jackson County was conducted nearby.

Vietnam veteran Gary Dyer opened with a prayer, declaring the area of the replica wall holy ground.

“It’s not just a field, but I declare it today to be holy ground and those that come upon it in reverence know that wall is stained with the tears of many today,” he said.

After Danielle Kaufman sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” master of ceremonies Steve Lynch, a veteran himself, recognized Vietnam veterans, others who have served, those who currently serve and their families. He also thanked the people who met many times to plan for the traveling wall’s arrival and those who donated.

“There have been a lot of people involved in getting this together, many meetings between here and a coordinator to Washington to the gentlemen here that do the wall and teach us all how to build something that’s very special and is a wonderful memorial here,” Lynch said.

Dyer and fellow Vietnam veteran Larry Bothe were next to speak.

Dyer said as people look at the names on the wall, they represent lives cut so short too soon.

“It’s all about the heroes on the wall,” he said. “Some of us got medals, some of us get a lot of recognition, but those guys paid the price so I could stand here today and talk about that. I’ve got a lot of good friends on that wall through the Tet Offensive. If you survived ‘68, you survived something.”

Dyer said he survived by the grace of God.

“Those guys that are up there, I know one day when God allows me to get to heaven, I’m going to run across there and see Darrell, Slack, Warren, Larry, names I can’t remember,” Dyer said. “I’m going to see those guys. I believe that because they paid the price, a blood price, the ultimate sacrifice we call it today.”

The first time he saw his friends’ names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital, Dyer said he fell to his knees and began to weep, but it also helped him heal.

“Some of you here, you lost a loved one, you lost a husband, maybe a son,” he said. “My daddy fought in World War II, I fought in Vietnam and my two boys joined and fought in Iraq, so my family knows what it’s like to fight, to be wounded and to shed blood. I thank God for those guys on the wall.”

Dyer said the wall serves as a beacon to the area. It will remain open around the clock through 1:45 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s all right if you shed a tear,” he said. “My first pastor said, ‘Tears is a language that God knows and understands.’ He gave his only begotten son and knows what it’s like and that sacrifice. Only by the shedding of blood is there freedom. … War kills, steals and destroys, but before I sit down today, as you go to that wall, may the good Lord touch your heart and bring you the healing that we all need today.”

Bothe said it’s good to see Vietnam veterans be treated much better nowadays compared to their return home during the war.

“Vietnam veterans have risen up in the eyes of the population,” he said. “One of the things that I learned from Vietnam was that no matter what you did over there, whether you were directly involved in the fighting or you were working or you were where you were living here in the U.S., nothing is as bad as being in Vietnam.”

The program closed with proclamations from Jackson County Commissioner Matt Reedy, declaring Thursday a day of honor to recognize local and nationwide Vietnam veterans, and Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson, declaring Thursday The Wall That Heals Day.

“May the lives lost and the countless hearts impacted by the Vietnam War be a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit,” Reedy said. “The Jackson County community stands united in gratitude, respect and deep reverence for our Vietnam veterans, recognizing their steadfast commitment to defending liberty and ensuring the prosperity of the future generations.”

Through their bravery, resilience and camaraderie, Reedy said the veterans have exemplified the ideals of honor, duty and selflessness, leaving an indelible mark on our history and our hearts.

“It is both a privilege and a solemn duty to gather in commemoration of the touring Vietnam memorial wall, honoring those who served, those who returned and those whose memories live on as a beacon of light guiding us through the shadows of the past,” he said. “We commend their commitment to freedom, justice and pursuit of a better world.”

Nicholson said The Wall That Heals was unveiled on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1996, by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, designed to travel throughout the United States to allow people to experience the monument in the peace and comfort of their own communities.

They can do name rubbings on the wall, experience the mobile education center and see items that have been left behind at the wall over the years and a replica of the In Memory plaque.

Nicholson also recognized Thursday as Agent Orange Awareness Day, as Aug. 10 was the first day the substance was used in Vietnam. The death toll related to that among American veterans is roughly 300,000 troops, he said.

“Their sacrifices will never be forgotten,” he said.

After Lynch read the names of the 14 Jackson County veterans who died in combat in Vietnam, Jeff Pershing, the event’s director, shared a final thought.

“I want you to remember every veteran dies twice,” Pershing said. “He dies maybe in battle. He dies after he comes home from injuries. He might just die of natural causes. He dies a second time when we forget him, so never forget the veterans.”

The ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute and playing of “Taps” by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 honor guard and bagpipers Jeff Burgmeier of Seymour and Carolyn Cook of Louisville, Kentucky, playing “Amazing Grace.”