Friday was a day to remember the history of the Vietnam War and the brave men and women who fought and served our country and those who did not return from the battles they fought in the jungles of southeast Asia. It was also a day to educate the present generations of that War in the hopes that the cost of the mistakes made there are not repeated.
The American Legion Post 82 of Windsor hosted a five day tribute to the veterans of Vietnam with the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washigton D.C.
Etched in the black marble are the names of more than 58,000 soldiers who did not return from the War which lasted from November 1955-April 1975.
“The veterans who are here today are reliving our history,” Cmdr. Bill Anderson of the Windsor American Legion Post No. 82 said Friday morning shortly before the opening ceremonies of the event began. “All of these vets who came home never got a proper welcome home and this is our way to pay tribute to them today.
“They made a huge sacrifice and this is our way to honor them and their families and loved ones who also pay a price and suffer a tremendous loss each day their loved ones have been gone from them.” he added. “This will be an emotional day for all of us but it is a day about healing and education so we may learn and not repeat those past mistakes in our nations history.”
Anderson and all of those who spoke at the event felt that education was one of the keys to the healing process.
Sedalia resident and advocate for veterans causes Sgt. Jim Gaertner, U.S. Army echoed those feelings in his remarks.
“A man will never die as long as his name is spoken,” Gaertner began by quoting the ancient Greeks. “I made a promise to never forget the names of my brothers in arms who fought and died on the battle fields especially that of my best friend Mike Waters.
“I met Mike when we were both sent to fight and we became the very best of friends,” Gaertner told the large group assembled at the ceremony, “We spent our time talking about going home and so many other thing teenage soldiers do.”
Gaertner said on June 30, 1970, Waters shared a letter from home with Gaertner that brought both men some happy news.
“Mike got a letter from his sister telling him that she and her fiance had decided to postpone their upcoming wedding until Mike could be home so he could be the best man in the wedding,” Gaertner said. “The news made him so happy but later that night three mortar rounds landed in our presence.”
Gartener described the scene as a terrible incident of friendly fire that was a moment of absolute silence until cries filled the air.
“I remember thinking and praying that it wasn’t Mike, but it was,” Gaertner recalled with tears in his eyes. “Even though he was not conscious, we knelt beside him and held him and told him that he wasn’t alone and that we loved him.
“His death left a gaping wound in my soul, but all my brothers in arms have a story that we must not forget,” he added. “We brought that war home with us and it is still with us today; it is not different from any other war.”
Gaertner added that all of those who fought would not be forgotten but this was a time to cry and let go.
The keynote speaker at the event, Brig, Gen Paul Tibbets IV, Commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force base in Knob Noster also spoke of the need and importance of honoring those who served and serve today in the armed forces.
“We must honor those who fought in the face of overwhelming pressure in an environment and circumstances that are beyond our control,” Tibbets said, “We just go where we are told and carry out the mission which we are asked to do.
“The men and women who served deserve our gratitude because they have the courage to do what is right even in the face of great adversity,” he added. “They have paid the ultimate sacrifice and have given so much which is why we are the greatest nation in the world.”
Tibbets went on to say that all who serve stand on the soldiers of giants who came before them but he too reflected on the commitment of the families who lost loved ones and those who today have family members who enlist.
“We should remember too that this is not a solo effort because it is not done without the families and communities of those who serve,” Tibbets said. “We the sons and daughters of a grateful nation remember.”
The closing speaker at event, Cmdr. George Scarborough of the Missouri Department of the American Legion brought a loud cheer from those gathered during his remarks.
“If our leaders would give our military the opportunity to take care of business, they darn sure would,” Scarborough said. “It is Vietnam day everyday for those who were left behind.
“They bore the burden and have a quality about them that is untested by others,” he added. “It is because of them that we will never let this happen to others.”
At the conclusion of Scarborough’s remarks, the families of those who served and died in Vietnam from Windsor, Henry, Benton, Pettis, and Johnson counties were recognized.
The ceremony concluded with the families placing a memorial wreath at the front of the wall as “Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes followed by a Volley of Three from a military firing line.
The final tribute was the playing of taps and a missing man fly over from private pilots from the community using their personal Cessna planes in tribute to those who served.
The Moving Wall, which is a half scale replica of the National Memorial will remain open today at the American Legion Post 82 grounds in Windsor until 1 p.m. with a closing ceremony.
The memoral will offically close at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext, 1484.