Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

MOVED BY THE WALL

When you touch it, it will touch you. 


People came by the thousands, more than fifteen thousand in fact.  People like two-month old Drake Edge, whose great uncle was killed in Vietnam, and 100-year-old Arthur Afdahl, who served in World War II, came from all over Laurens County, Georgia and the Southeast came to the grounds of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center during four hot August days to pay homage to more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives for their country during the war in Vietnam which lasted from 1958 to 1975.



Inscribed on the black panels of the Vietnam Wall are the names of fifteen Laurens Countians.   The typical man was a 26 year old white male, a  Baptist, married and one hundred and sixty one days into his tour.  The average commissioned and non-commissioned officer was a 37 year old white male, a Baptist, married and more than one year into his tour.  The typical private was a 22 year old white male, a Baptist, single and 154 days into his tour.

The oldest Laurens Countian killed in Vietnam was forty four year old Lt. Col, Harlow Gary Clark, Jr.  The youngest was Cpl. David Lee Copeland, some two months short of his 20th birthday.  The first man killed was Sgt. First Class James A. Starley, who was killed in an explosion on Feb. 22, 1965.  The last man killed was PFC George Wayne Baker on June 9, 1970.  Both Specialist Four Bobby Finney and PFC George Baker were killed in action on the 21st day of their first tour.

The highest ranking officers killed were Lt. Col. Harlow Gary Clark, Jr., who was killed when his helicopter crashed on March 7, 1966. And Lt. Col. William Clyde Stinson, Jr., who was awarded two Silver Star Medals for heroism, was killed in his helicopter while attempting to rescue some of his wounded soldiers.

“I felt like Dublin could be an important part of making sure Vietnam veterans were acknowledged for the sacrifices they endured and honored for their service to our country and all of us,” said Jennifer Whipple Whiddon, a member of the John Laurens Chapter of the N.S.D.A.R. who first came up with idea to bring the Moving Wall to Dublin more than two years ago.

“This being the war of my own generation made me feel personally indebted and responsible for carrying this project through,” said Jennifer, who devoted a lot of her spare time raising money for the project in the beginning.

Whiddon enlisted the aid of the Laurens County Historical Society to sponsor and raise large sums of money to pay the cost of the wall itself and all necessary expenses.  Dr. Stephen Svanovec, a Historical Society director, joined the cause by managing the funds.


That’s when Johnny Payne, a Vietnam veteran and perpetual patriot, took command.  With the aid of County Commissioner Buddy Adams, also a perpetual patriot, all of the plans fell into place.  When the chance came to take an earlier date, Payne jumped at the chance to hold the event.

“The committees commitment to this mission was just outstanding. Working with the men and women who helped bring this to our community was such and honor and it was only through their hard work and planing that made it such a huge success, said Payne, who believes the wall's visit here was one of the all time historic events in  Laurens County.

“To  escort three spouses who had never seen their husbands name to the panels was such an honor. To see them reach out and touch their husbands names on the wall was an overwhelming experience for me, one which I will cherish forever.... To hear them say that they could now begin to find some healing and bring  closure after all these decades in the loss of their husbands.”  declared Payne,  who has seen death in Vietnam up close and personally and was himself moved by the reverence and respect displayed who came to the wall.

The volunteers, numbering more than 400, are too numerous to single out.  Jack Baynes led the lay out of the grounds with the help of a Sunday school class of senior citizens from First Baptist Church.  Mike Brooks and his ramp crew from the Dublin Civitan Club built a walkway the entire length of the wall.   A major part of the success of the event was the support and dedication by the VA Hospital and its entire staff, too numerous to mention, sufficed to say that they all took part.

The four-day event, held on August 14-18, was kicked off as David “Hound” Blanton and his corps of Patriot Riders motorcyclists and dozens of law enforcement officers escorted the wall through Dublin to the VA, where the riders helped to erect the 253-foot- long, half-scale replica of the wall.

Major General Jim Butterworth, Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard, gave the keynote address in the opening ceremonies, hosted by  Master of Ceremonies, Allen Thomas and which featured the music of The Wardlaw Brothers, Kellie Knight, Dick Burrell and Tom Turner.  United States Senator Johnny Isakson was on hand to salute these American heroes.

For four days, visitors left remembrances and gifts at the base of the wall.  On Friday, thousands of school students came and left thank you notes to servicemen who died four decades before they were born.  And on every morning, volunteers cleaned the wall. And on every night, Marvin Barlow came in the middle of the night to clean it again just because he couldn’t stand the thought of any smudges on the hallowed memorial.  And, there every night was Vietnam veteran and frequent VA volunteer Gus Albritton, who would pull out his guitar and sing to the fallen heroes.

For almost eighty straight hours, volunteers read the list of names from the wall going through the full list one and a half times.   The ladies of the DAR and other volunteers kept a detailed list of each of the 15,000 plus visitors.  The research staff, led in part by teenager Paxton Smith, was able to direct many people to the exact spot where a name was located.

One man came on mission.  After sitting for a long time, he walked over to the wall to honor a pledge to a fallen comrade.  The men had an agreement to share a beer after the war, so the man drank one bottle and took the remaining five to the wall along with five cups with a note which stated in part, “Here’s the beer I promised and I left some cups if your buddies want a sip.”  In point of fact, many of the visitors were Vietnam veterans who came by to remember their old long, lost friends.

The closing ceremony was held on sweltering Sunday evening, which, as if divinely on cue, turned refreshingly cool as dark clouds and a cooling breeze swept over the grounds.  After remarks by Georgia congressman John Barrow and Georgia Attorney General Sam Ohlens, General James Sehorn gave the concluding address. A special salute was made to POW John H. South, whose son John South and first wife Phyllis Parrish were in attendance.

General Sehorn, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” spoke of duty to country and of the men whom he served with in Vietnam, remarking that he had never been to the wall as it was too painful for him to relive the deaths of his men and close fellow POWs.

After nearly everyone had gone home, Gen. Sehorn quietly moved over to the reference table, found the names of several of his closest friends who died in Vietnam, and walked alone out to the wall first time to pay his respects to those who gave the last full measure of devotion to our country.

In some way, everyone who walked along the wall and read the names were moved. Some were moved to tears;  tears of anguish, tears of closure and tears of love.  Others were moved to accept those who gave their lives as heroes and not killers.  And, still others were moved to resolve that this type of war shall never deeply divide our country ever again.

The Dublin-Laurens Museum is featuring an exhibit in its new quarters at 702 Bellevue Avenue, which will commemorate the week when the patriots of Laurens County and the surrounding areas came by the tens of thousands to tell all of the 58,195  veterans “thank you for their sacrifices and a well deserved welcome home.”

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