As was the case in many wars before, Laurens County sent many of its best young men into the armed services during the Vietnam War. There is not enough room to list all of our heroes who left their homes and families to serve in the military.
The war in Vietnam was widely unpopular during a decade when the country and the world were flipped upside down, over and over again. Naturally there were many who were afraid to go around the world to fight a war in a country that many of them had never heard of before the war began. But, Laurens Countians did go. And many served with valor and honor as they always have.
U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charles P. Ragan was one of the first naval advisors sent to Vietnam in 1963. Lt. Ragan was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism by Pres. Lyndon Johnson. Col. Addison Hogan was awarded the Gallantry Cross with a Silver Star by the South Vietnamese Government for his service in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964.
Sergeant James A. Starley of Dublin was killed by a bomb in Vietnam on February 22, 1965. Sgt. Starley was the first Laurens Countian and the 229th American to lose his life during the war. In the winter of 1966, Lt. Col. Harlow G. Clark, Jr. became the first Laurens County officer to be killed in action.
The citizens of Laurens County erected a sign in front of the Dublin-Laurens Museum honoring those men who served in the armed forces during the war. The names of those who died were painted in gold. A dedication ceremony was held on June 30, 1967, in which the families of Bobby Finney and James Cook, the third and fourth men who lost their lives during the war, were special guests. Sgt. Jimmy Bedgood, winner of four Bronze Stars for bravery, two Purple Hearts, and an Army Commendation medal with a "V," was killed in his third tour of duty in 1968.
Four Laurens County aviators Warrant Officer David L. Green, Jr., Lt. W. T. Holmes, Jr., John E. Best, and Captain Wilbur A. Darsey were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Air Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal, respectively, for valor and meritorious service in the early years of the Vietnam War.
Lt. Col. W. Clyde Stinson, Jr. of Dublin was killed while directing his troops from his helicopter. Stinson, a 1953 graduate of West Point Military Academy, was awarded two Silver Stars. At the time, Lt. Col. Stinson was one of the highest ranking officers killed in the Vietnam War.
Major James F. Wilkes, a Forward Air Controller flying a modified civilian Cessna airplane, was awarded a Silver Star for directing fighter aircraft in between friendly and enemy positions and saving the lives of many American soldiers. Major Wilkes also won two Distinguished Flying Crosses and fifteen Air Medals.
Staff Sergeant Charles D. Windham, Jr. was awarded two Bronze Stars for his heroism as a Patrol Leader, one of the most dangerous positions in the field. Chief Warrant Officer Danny Collins was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Air Medals, and a Bronze Star.
Sgt. Gary Fields, a Green Beret, won several medals for his actions as a helicopter gunner. Capt. Fred M. Stuckey was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action when he piloted his helicopter into an extremely hazardous area under difficult weather conditions and rescued American soldiers who were pinned down under enemy fire. Lt. Col. Holman Edmond, Jr. in his two tours of duty in Vietnam was awarded 2 Bronze Stars and 17 Air Medals.
Billy Bryan of Dublin and his fellow M.P.s established Operation Blind Orphan to care for blind and orphaned Vietnamese children. Four sons and one daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.V. Tipton were serving in the armed forces. These are only a few of the remarkable stories of Laurens County's heroes during the Vietnam War.
Regardless of anyone's opinion on the validity and the wiseness of the war, we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the men and women of Laurens County and the United States of America for serving our country. It was not their war, it was their country's war and win, lose or draw, these men and women should be honored, not cursed, shunned and spat upon.
When you see a veteran of the Vietnam War (many are not hard to spot - they wear that designation proudly on their brightly colored black caps) shake their hand and tell them, "Thank you for your service." Then, if you will, and I suggest you do, hug them hard and sincerely say, "Welcome Home!"
As you visit the Moving Vietnam Wall at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center this weekend, watch those who come to visit, those who come to see the names of friends and loved ones, those who salute, those who bow in reverent silence and those who sob.
The long black wall is not a "Wall of Death." Moreover, it is a "Wall of Healing." It is a place where you can come peace with yourself and your feelings about the war, those who fought in it and those who fought against it. It is place to cry, to remember those you loved and lost. It is a place to remember, to remember the gifts of love and friendship these heroic friends gave to you and me.
I can not possibly thank all of those who helped, so I won't. In a way, our whole community has. I will say thank you to Johnny Payne, a Vietnam veteran's veteran, who has been in command of the project from its inception. If you haven't already been a part of the salute to the more than 58,000 men and women who lost their lives in Vietnam, now is your chance.
Come to the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center on Veterans Blvd. (U.S. Hwy 80 West) on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week to honor our fallen heroes.