TIOGA COUNTY, N.Y. — A week-long display of The Wall that Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., neared its conclusion on July 22 with a closing ceremony that took place at the Owego Free Academy. As stated by VVA Chapter 480 President Bill Chandler, who spearheaded efforts to bring The Wall to Tioga County, there was a lot of healing that happened.
“There has been a lot of tears shed here this past week,” Chandler said during the closing ceremony, “and there will probably be more shed here today.”
The Wall arrived on Tuesday following an escort for the truck that carried it from the Dandy Mini Mart lot at the Wilawana exit to the Owego Free Academy.
After being set up, and volunteers brought in, an opening ceremony welcomed guests to view The Wall.
On July 21, hundreds of motorcyclists arrived at The Wall in the early morning hours to embark on the fourth annual Tribute Ride that travels the entire length of the recently designated Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway of Valor, Route 38.
The designation of the highway was an effort of a man known as Lauren Dates. For the opening ceremony, Dates arrived with his wife Laurie to view The Wall. Dates, who is a Vietnam Veteran, was planning on meeting the ride on Saturday just north of Auburn with an escort, in flight.
Another veteran who helped establish the highway’s designation is Blue Knights Chapter 17 President Barry Langerlan, who was helping the arriving motorcycles file into place on Saturday.
Langerlan, who is a Vietnam-era veteran, served as an Ithaca police officer for 32 years. Langerlan stated that he retired from that position in 2000, but remains a member of the Blue Knights — an international law enforcement motorcycle club.
According to Langerlan, the Blue Knights was formed in 1974. At that time, he added, there were seven members; today there are over 20,000.
Langerlan recalled meeting with Lauren Dates during the push for the Route 38 Highway designation. “Lauren got things moving,” Langerlan said, “and I told him that it sounded like a good excuse to have a ride.” The rest, is history.
But for those who gathered for the ride, a chance to visit The Wall That Heals was offered, and tears were shed.
Ray Lasky, of Conklin, N.Y., saw a photo of veteran Lee Spinner of Waverly, N.Y., in the paper last year following the ride, and noticed a patch he was wearing. Lasky was searching for Spinner, and found him near The Wall prior to the ride.
The patch Lasky was interested in was the 1st Aviation Patch. Although Spinner served in 1965 and 1966, and Lasky from 1967 to 1968, they both had stories to share.
Over at The Wall, Kaye Coates of Sidney, N.Y. was searching for Eddy Cox, her husband’s best friend from Vietnam.
Coates explained that her husband Grant was serving in Vietnam with the combat tracker team when he was injured, and was in need of hospitalization. Replacing her husband on the ground was Cox. According to Coates, Cox was killed when he went in for her husband.
Today, Coates’ husband serves as the National Sergeant-at-Arms for the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Helicopters were also a common sight throughout the week. On Thursday, outside of the cordoned off area for The Wall in Owego, one of the test beds for Lockheed Martin landed for the opening ceremony: a UH-1H (Huey).
According to its pilot, Mark Stuart, a Vietnam veteran who served in the 17th Calvary, the helicopter was actually flown in Vietnam during the conflict.
“It’s an honor for me to be able to bring this here, and an honor to fly it,” Stuart said.
Stuart explained that the aircraft was used in Vietnam to bring troops in and out. It was also used to pick up the injured.
In a medical mission, he explained, they would get a call of wounded on the ground, and the first one that could get there would answer the call. A term, he noted, of Hover Hole allowed for the helicopter to gain entrance to the ground, where thick brush awaited. Sometimes, he added, the troops on the ground would have to cut the brush down.
Now, the helicopter resides at Lockheed Martin as a test bed, and is used to fit and test new technologies. For Stuart, who was proudly standing near the aircraft in his Calvary hat that he located after it was stored for 40 years, being near The Wall was an honor.
On Saturday, and during the Tribute Ride, a helicopter owned by Frank Lopke, and piloted by Carl Barrows, a Vietnam veteran, followed the motorcycles as they departed.
But with the conclusion of Saturday’s ride, and the time nearing for The Wall That Heals to be broken down and transported to its next stop, many were traveling into town to get one more look at The Wall, and to gather for the closing ceremony.
With patriotic music provided by the Kirby Band, and a podium set up once more, Sunday’s closing ceremony drew supporters in the bleachers, and welcomed family members of local veterans whose names are inscribed in The Wall.
Arriving for the ceremony to receive a flower that would be placed next to the wall was a woman named Tammy from Van Etten, N.Y. Tammy’s father, Donald E. Rummel, was killed in Vietnam when she was only two months old.
According to Rummel’s sister, Nancy Snyder, he never had an opportunity to see his daughter. Rummel also didn’t make it to her wedding.
“Donny (Donald) was supposed to be my husband’s best man,” Snyder said.
But on Sunday, Tammy had an opportunity to place a flower on the grass and next to the memorial items that were displayed in front of her father’s name on The Wall.
As Mike Donavan said best in his closing prayer on Sunday, “Sometimes words hurt more than bullets.” He was describing what Vietnam veterans had to endure when they returned home.
“The support received today heals,” he added. Donavan himself, is a Vietnam veteran.
Tioga County, N.Y. veterans killed in Vietnam, and whose names are inscribed on The Wall, include Anthony Joseph Battista, Gary Lee Faucett, Edward Allen Boardman, Wayne Louis Carlson, Duane Elwood Carter, Michael John Chamberlain, Robert Edward Douglas Jr., Gary Lawrence Elia, Herman Eugene Miller, James Charles Moore Jr., Merritt Lewis Murray, James Edward Nulton II, Donald Thomas Penney, Anthony Neal Revak, Duane Clark Romeo, Donald Eugene Rummel, Donald Faye Spicer, Gary Patterson Stiger, James Richard Wurtenburg and James Leon Zimmer.
The Wall was disassembled early on July 23, and then escorted from the Owego Treadway as it travels to its next destination in Iowa.