Viet­nam wall opens in Eas­ton

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRIS POLK cpolk@star­dem.com

EAS­TON — Hun­dreds of mo­tor­cy­cles es­corted it from Kent Is­land to Eas­ton. Scores of vol­un­teers spent Thurs­day putting it up.

Now the Viet­nam Trav­el­ing Me­mo­rial Wall is here, a smaller ver­sion of the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., that lists all those who died in south­east Asia dur­ing the war.

It will be open to the pub­lic for a week on the grounds of Eas­ton VFW Post 5118 on Glebe Road.

A steady stream of vis­i­tors are spend­ing time wan­der­ing among all the names, look­ing up loved ones and spend­ing quiet time con­tem­plat­ing how pro­found it is to serve your coun­try.

“No mat­ter how many times I’ve seen this wall, ev­ery time I shed a tear,” said David Curnock, who trav­eled from Dover, Del., to see the wall with friends from Kent County VFW Post 850.

“I held my best friend in my arms, and he died,” Curnock said. “He’s over there on the wall. Ed­die Cal­houn.”

Viet­nam veteran Ray Sim­mons of Cam­bridge said he spot­ted the name of his pla­toon leader on the wall, Rus­sell Clay.

“He must have had a tough life, be­cause on his right fore­arm, he had a tat­too that said ‘Born to Lose,’” Sim­mons said, rem­i­nisc­ing about his pla­toon leader.

“There are a lot of re­ally good folks up here,” he said, gaz­ing at the wall. “It’s good for peo­ple who can­not get to D.C. to see this.”

Sim­mons praised the in­cred­i­ble amount of work VFW Post 5118 vol­un­teers went through to bring the Viet­nam Trav­el­ing Me­mo­rial Wall to Eas­ton.

He pointed out an­other name he knew.

“Ryan Schoen­berg,” Sim­mons said, run­ning his finger over a name. “He crashed in a he­li­copter.”

Sim­mons was in the 101st Air­borne, a ri­fle pla­toon.

“We had some re­ally good guys,” he said.

Sim­mons talked about ca­reer and fi­nan­cial suc­cess some Viet­nam vets had achieved af­ter they came back from the war.

“One of my fel­low pla­toon­ers, he was just con­firmed last week as the deputy sec­re­tary of education,” Sim­mons said.

He said Mick Zais, who also led a pla­toon in the 101st, stayed in, be­came a bri­gadier gen­eral, re­tired and, among other things, had been con­firmed by the U.S. Se­nate for his new post as the No. 2 per­son in the fed­eral govern­ment for education last week.

He said an­other fel­low he had gone through the south­east Asian jun­gles and rice pad­dies with, Frank Guidera, had be­come the CEO of the na­tional chain Uno Pizze­ria & Grill. “I was read­ing in the Army

Times that one of the things in Afghanistan the guys miss most is pizza,” Sim­mons said. “So this guy loads up a char­ter DHL flight and sends pizza to the Far East.”

About 300 peo­ple packed the grounds at Post 5118 on Fri­day even­ing for the open­ing cer­e­monies of the wall’s week here in Eas­ton.

It was eyes to the skies be­fore the pro­gram be­gan, and two Viet­nam-era Black Hawk he­li­copters made a low pass over the crowd.

Ken­ley Timms, Post 5118 com­man­der, said he had been hav­ing a hard time ne­go­ti­at­ing to get the he­li­copters for the pro­gram, but when he men­tioned it to the pro­gram’s keynote speaker, four-star Gen. Larry R. El­lis, sud­denly all those trou­bles dis­ap­peared.

Un­der the tent, col­ors were pre­sented by the Eas­ton High School NJROTC Color Guard, while re­cent Sts. Peter and Paul High School grad­u­ate Emma Kel­ley led the singing of “The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner.”

There were lots of in­tro­duc­tions and speeches. Two Gold Star Moth­ers were pointed out in the au­di­ence.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from VFW chap­ters far and wide were present, in­clud­ing Wi­comico Me­mo­rial VFW Post 10159; Amer­i­can Le­gions Post 70 Eas­ton and Post 77 Blake-Black­ston; Caro­line Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 29; Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 206 Ch­e­sa­peake Beach; VFW Post 7464 Gra­sonville; Amer­i­can Le­gion Cen­tre­ville Post 18; Viet­nam Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica Chap­ter 648; and Mil­i­tary Or­der of the Pur­ple Heart Del­marva Chap­ter 570.

Two re­tired flag of­fi­cers were spot­ted among the crowd — re­tired Maj. Gen. Thomas Prather and Lt. Gen. Larry Jor­dan, who vol­un­tar­ily helped with a later pin­ning cer­e­mony.

Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jen­nifer Wil­liams and Sen. Ad­die Eckardt, R37-Mid-Shore, were in at­ten­dance, along with Melissa Kel­ley from Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s (D Md.-1st) of­fice.

Speak­ers in­cluded Eas­ton’s Mayor Bob Wil­ley; Bill Miller, VFW Com­man­der for the State of Mary­land; and Brid­get Langfeldt of Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s of­fice.

Keynote speaker Gen. El­lis spoke about his time in Viet­nam and more about the dif­fi­cul­ties mil­i­tary per­son­nel faced when they came home to a na­tion in tur­moil over the war.

El­lis also did tours in the United States, South Korea, Ger­many, Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina. He cur­rently lives in Ge­or­gia but was born and raised in Dorch­ester County.

He served as deputy chief of staff for op­er­a­tions and plans of the Depart­ment of the Army, and com­man­der of U.S. Army Forces Com­mand from 2001 to 2004.

He read a let­ter to the crowd com­mem­o­rat­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the Viet­nam War writ­ten by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

He also read a let­ter prais­ing the ef­forts of the vet­er­ans in bring­ing the wall to Mary­land writ­ten by Gov. Larry Ho­gan.

Bag­piper Randy Welch and drum­mer Rob Mur­ray gave a stir­ring performance of a med­ley of theme songs from the five U.S. mil­i­tary branches. They fol­lowed with “Amaz­ing Grace.”

Each Viet­nam veteran was pinned with a spe­cial “Viet­nam War Veteran” pin and given a cer­tifi­cate in honor of their ser­vice. Prather and Jor­dan helped with the pin­ning.

Viet­nam Vet­er­ans of Amer­i­can Chap­ter 648 con­cluded the pro­gram Fri­day even­ing with a solemn ta­ble cer­e­mony, hon­or­ing fallen he­roes.

The wall will be open 24 hours a day ev­ery day un­til June 6. Events hon­or­ing fallen he­roes from spe­cific coun­ties have been planned, along with ta­ble cer­e­monies and the play­ing to taps.

The names are be­ing read out loud dur­ing day­light. More than 58,000 names are on the wall. Vol­un­teers are on standby to help vis­i­tors find names, and pro­fes­sional coun­selors will be avail­able for those who grieve.

A shut­tle has been ar­ranged to make park­ing eas­ier. Vis­i­tors can catch the free shut­tle from the Tal­bot County Busi­ness Cen­ter (old Black & Decker plant), the for­mer Safe­way park­ing lot, the park­ing lot ad­ja­cent to Kohl’s and the Eas­ton Pres­by­te­rian Church Park­ing Lot.

The shut­tle will run con­tin­u­ously from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sun­day, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon­day and Tues­day, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wed­nes­day.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Viet­nam Trav­el­ing Me­mo­rial Wall’s stay in Eas­ton, con­tact VFW 5118 board mem­bers Ken­ley Timms at ken­leyt@goeas­ton.net or 410-310-5748, Royce Ball at royce­ball@mac.com or 443995-5908, or Gene Fe­her at gene­jfe­her@gmail.com or 410-770-4819.

PHOTO BY CHRIS POLK

Viet­nam veteran David Curnock of Dover, Del., makes a rub­bing of the name of one of his best friends from the Trav­el­ing Viet­nam Me­mo­rial Wall in Eas­ton on Fri­day even­ing. The wall is open 24 hours a day for vis­i­tors through June 6 at the Eas­ton VFW Post 5118 on Glebe Road.

PHOTO BY CHRIS POLK

Ken­ley Timms, com­man­der of Eas­ton VFW Post 5118, left, pins a “Viet­nam Veteran” pin on the Mary­land VFW Com­man­der Bill Miller dur­ing Fri­day’s open­ing cer­e­mony for the Viet­nam Trav­el­ing Me­mo­rial Wall.

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