Officials paid tribute to the dead and honored all who serve during an opening ceremony to welcome the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall into Perryopolis.
“I”m not here to mourn their deaths. I’m here to celebrate their lives because they had a purpose in this life, and they fulfilled their purpose,’’ said master of ceremonies Clarence Johnson, Perry Township supervisor and veteran.
Perry Township Supervisors, Perry Township Volunteer Fire Dept. and Veterans of Foreign Wars Gold Star Post 7023 are hosting the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, open 24 hours a day through Aug. 12 at the Frazier School District campus in Perryopolis.
The Aug. 7 ceremony at Frazier Middle School packed the auditorium where VFW Post 8543 Band of North Union Township played patriotic music, performer Tim Litvin sang, Scouts helped lead the Pledge of Allegiance and the Rev. Alvin Cabungcal lead prayer.
“That wall is a reminder of sacrifices made,’’ said Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink.
Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, noted it’s a “sobering walk’’ and when seeing the names, “You think of the bravery and sacrifices for freedom.’’
Sen. Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, said, “Seeing that wall puts things into perspective – what was given and what it costs for freedom.’’
Judge John Wagner Jr. shared information about the memorial, including almost 40,000 of the 58,000 on the wall were younger than 22 and the largest group - 33,000 – were 18.
Commissioner Vince Vicites said, ”Here today, we pay tribute to the 49 Fayette County who have fallen and one missing in action and mourn the 58,000 on that wall outside.’’
“We have a duty, an obligation and a responsibility to never forget,’’ said Magisterial District Judge Richard Kasunic III.
Speakers explained what Vietnam servicemen endured.
District Attorney and veteran Richard Bower talked about the tortures suffered by prisoners of war. He went through simulations in military training, but noted, “The unbearable pain and suffering these men had to face I can never imagine.’’
When servicemen returned home, Commissioner and veteran Dave Lohr said, “You did not get the praise and honor you should have received.’’
“They were spit on, jeered at, called baby killers,’’ said Jim Falbo, veteran from Post 7023. “It was disgusting.’’
Robert Chuboy, post commander, noted the many challenges of the war as he introduced decorated Army veteran Dennis Walker, of Perryopolis.
“I felt as close to those guys as my brothers. I was just one of those guys who was there and we weren’t looking for medals or pats on the back, just doing a job, the way it had to be done,’’ said Walker. “No real choice. We played the cards dealt to us the only way we could, sometimes with disregard for ourselves to help and protect others, not just attack an enemy.’’
Walker told a story of two men whose bravery cost them their lives but saved others, including himself: “There’s not a doubt in my mind, I’m standing here today because of names that are on that wall.’’
Doc Russo, of Florida, wall manager, said every town he visits has a story. His favorite is of an older lady who watched the wall from her front porch rocker throughout its stay in her small West Virginia town.
At the closing ceremony, she asked to give Russo a hug and thanked him.
Russo recalled, “I said, ‘Ma’am, it’s my honor. I have a cousin on the wall and as long as I’m able, he and the other 58,000 plus will never be forgotten. She said, ‘No, you don’t understand.’ She pointed to a name: This is the first time in 47 years my son’s been home.’’’