By Bree Collar, Sentinel Staff Writer
The faces and lives of the 58,307 men and eight women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War are forever etched on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC serving as a memorial and healing place for family and friends.
The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall came to Blue Ridge early Oct. 3 escorted by over 100 Veteran motorcyclists ending at its temporary location through Oct. 7 on the grounds of the new Blue Ridge United Methodist Church (BRUMC).
Opening ceremonies last Thursday afternoon commemorated the grounds as a place consecrated as holy ground and now the lives of those who have been lost to preserve the nation, our way of life and freedoms will forever remember the soldiers who gave all.
“We have come together as people from all walks of life to honor Vietnam Veterans in particular and to thank you for your service to our country and for ensuring our freedom and liberties we so richly have in America,” World Harvest Church North Pastor Asa Dockery, said.
On foreign soil blood was spilled and lives given so the United States of America and its citizens could stand on the nation’s soil with the freedoms and liberties currently enjoyed.
Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, Veteran and Pastors Tom Jordan, Jay Hughes and Rick White, along with Veterans George Nelson and Prisoner of War (POW) Bill Robinson all imparted words for contemplation over the five day visit.
Each morning the North Georgia Honor Guard raised the American flag standing a little higher and brighter along with flags for POW and Missing in Action and all five branches of military service, followed by taps in as the sun set in the evening.
During Vietnam nearly 3 million young men and women answered the call for service. More than 58,000 of those did not return and are named on the wall with the youngest being 15 years old and the oldest on the wall 63 years old.
“It’s fitting that we are right in this location today in the shadow of that cross (the Methodist Church). It is a reminder that wherever we go, there is a higher power protecting us , giving us hope…and will see us through. ” Colonel White said.
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington was dedicated on Veterans Day 1982.
“Since that time many Veterans have referred quite often to it as the Healing Wall,” Helton said. “Reaching out to touch a name, someone you knew perhaps, allows you to see your own reflection on that polished granite wall.
“It has a powerful effect as you realize you are standing on hallowed ground,” Helton said.
“It is important, at a time like this, to give thanks to people like Vietnam Veteran Elaine Owen and the veterans standing here today, Veteran war organizations, all the volunteers and Blue Ridge United Methodist Church to provide the citizens of Fannin with the honor to experience this healing wall,” Helton said.
Friday the Appalachia St. Andrew’s Pipes & Drums filled the grounds with solemn tunes before Ralston spoke of the 19 year war that took a horrific toll on the country. Then the Fannin County Middle School Chorus sang the national anthem honoring all veterans.
“For those who lived during those times it was a chapter of our history that many prefer to forget, because it’s human nature to want to forget the bad, the painful and the tragic,” Ralston said.
Before leaving he wanted to impart one lesson from his speech and that was to never forget respect for the soldier, sailor, airman, marine and coast guardsman.
“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” he said. The conflict in Vietnam had lesson about warfare, geopolitics and human nature.
The soldiers were not looking for parades but basic human support and help readjusting to civilian life. “We failed on that account. The truth is, we failed our duty to those who served in Vietnam on a national scale,” Ralston said
Returning to a divided nation, the county confused patriotism with politics. “We had forgotten the lesson that politics should stop at the water’s edge, and when we send men and women to fight and die for this nation we do so with a solemn and sacred obligation,” Ralston said.
“As visitors pass by the Wall, the hope was for individuals to be reminded that the only reason we are able to gather as one nation under God is because free men and women answer the call to defend this country and our way of life.
As you look at the names on this memorial wall, know that each name represents a lifetime of dedication and greatness.
Faced with austere and unrelenting conditions the soldiers in the remote jungles of Vietnam had a challenge just being in the unfamiliar conditions.
“Fighting a war there (in the jungle) was nearly unthinkable even when those hardships were well documented and publicized, even when flag draped caskets were returning back home countless men continued to step forward and fight for the U.S. and our allies defending our principles abroad,” Gooch said.
The 1,581 confirmed Georgians lives lost in Vietnam were joined by the thousands who returned home with both visible and invisible wounds. Gooch said the fates of many others remain uncertain…and are remembered through the flying of the POW MIA flag.
In Fannin County nearly 1,000 Vietnam Veterans call this area home. “We owe it to those who are with us to acknowledge them for their service and sacrifice,” Gooch said.
Marine Veteran George Nelson said everyone whose name we see on the Wall was a great American, fighting for the country, freedom, liberty and democracy. “We are just in the chain that goes back to 1776–never forgetting the Veterans who gave us what we have today,” Nelson said
Despite political maneuvers to keep the war going, Nelson said troops moved into Vietnam to protect America while facing anti-war movements at home beginning in 1964.
Robinson faced seven-and-a-half years captured in North Vietnam, hearing of fellow soldiers passing daily. “Everyone on this wall took an oath of American justice and committed to the United States of America,” Nelson said. “Their service and sacrifice we hope will be long remembered.”
Ralston also spoke in the same vein of remembrance, saying, “Every service member offers themselves for service and sacrifice, and those who do make it home safely should be honored. And those who do not should be remembered,” he said.
Solemn words on a solemn occasion, from veterans who served and those who waited at home. Speakers on this day remembered and shared their history, their memories, making this day at the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall special for everyone in Blue Ridge.