Vietnam wall opens in Easton
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 email@example.com or 410-310-5748, Royce Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443995-5908, or Gene Feher at email@example.com or 410-770-4819.
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.
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.