Special community program honors Vietnam veterans


A large group of more than 100 veterans from the Vietnam War were joined by a crowd of more than 300 friends and family members of Sunday afternoon as a special program was held in the Switzerland County High School gym.

The program was to honor veterans who served during the Vietnam era. The U.S. Department of Defense has declared 2012 as the time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Vietnam, and to properly – once and for all – welcome home the veterans of that war and honor them for their service.

Rita Sullivan, President of the Vevay American Legion Post #185 Auxiliary, coordinated the program and served as the emcee for the afternoon. She welcomed everyone, and Sharon Schmitt, chaplain of the auxiliary, opened with the invocation. Darrell Hansel, Vietnam veteran and member of the American Legion’s National Executive Committee, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Switzerland County High School senior Jennifer Johnson then sang The National Anthem.

Darrell Hansel then told everyone assembled about the small table sitting in front of the stage, which recognizes and remembers who are unaccounted for, either as Prisoners of War or those listed as Missing in Action. He said that after all these years, America still awaits a full accounting of those missing from all wars.

The veterans were then officially welcomed by Scotty Moore, the commander of the Sons of the American Legion; Kyle Meyer, Commander of the Men’s Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5396; American Legion Commander Donnie Boydston; and VFW Auxiliary President Carolyn Hysell.

Also speaking was Paul Schmitt, Vietnam veteran and commander of Vevay VFW Post #5396. In his remarks, he pointed out that one of the reasons for the great outreach of people to properly welcome home soldiers returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan is because Vietnam veterans are a part of that, and that they were not going to allow other soldiers to return from war and not be properly honored, as the Vietnam veterans had not been.

Rita Sullivan then read statistics about Switzerland County soldiers going to Vietnam. She said that from the surveys that had been returned by local veterans, nine of them had enlisted when they were 17 years old; ‘and that one of the soldiers, Raymond Scudder, altered his birth certificate and enlisted in the Marine Corps just five days after turning 16 years old.

There were 26 soldiers who were 18 years old when they joined; 17 who were 19 years old; 16 who were 20 years old; and there were also soldiers who were 21, 22, and 23. She noted that one Switzerland County soldier was 30 years old when he enlisted.

At least two of the soldiers in attendance volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam; and Bobby Joe Williamson, who was the first Switzerland County soldier killed in action in Vietnam, was on his third tour at the time of his death. Rita Sullivan also noted that there were sets of brothers who served; a husband and wife served at the same time; and two female classmates from the Vevay High School Class of 1966, Jackie Peters Johnston and Joanne Blodgett, chose to enlist in the Army Nurse Corps.

Don Stout, in attendance on Sunday, served 27 months in Vietnam with only one 30-day leave and one R&R; and David McFadden, also in attendance, served two full tours.

The speaker for the afternoon was Pat Lanman, editor of Vevay Newspapers and pastor of Olive Branch Baptist Church. His remarks centered on honoring the Vietnam veterans and that honor being long overdue; and he paid tribute to those who attended the service; and also the five soldiers from Switzerland County who lost their lives fighting in Vietnam.

Special music for the event was then provided by Hilary Lanman, a graduate of Switzerland County High School and now a sophomore at Huntington University. She wrote a special song, “Welcome Home”, to specifically honor the Vietnam veterans, and performed it for the first time on Sunday.

During the remarks and the song, those in the gym, especially the veterans, heard a familiar sound.

Organizers of the event were able to locate a “Huey” helicopter for the program on Sunday. It is a fully restored version of the helicopter that carried many Vietnam veterans in and out of combat. Rita Sullivan said that the helicopter had landed on the west side of the high school, and told everyone that following the program, everyone was invited to go out and see the helicopter – and that any veteran who wanted to take a ride, they would be able to take a 10- to 15-minute ride over the community.

Rita Sullivan acknowledged the many individuals and organizations that came together to help make the program a success, including those who provided monetary help. She noted that all of the information that had been gathered from the veterans had been put into a book, and that each veteran would be receiving a copy along with other gifts.

She also thanked the families of veterans who had passed away for providing photos of those soldiers; and told the audience that photos of the soldiers in attendance and others from their military days were in the books along with service information.

Then it was time for a little “comic relief”, as the 1960s sounds of the “Beach Boys” began playing over the speakers; and the “Switzerland County Beach Boys” group of Dr. Robert Findley, Edsel Detraz, Mark Boggs, and Adam Dennis came rolling in with a special vehicle complete with surf board. They drove around the gym to the delight of everyone, stopping for some dancing and other high jinks.

Following that performance, each Vietnam veteran in attendance was honored. As their name was read, they stood and were presented with gifts as their military photo was shown on the big screens near the stage. Each escort delivered the gifts, shook the soldiers hand, and then saluted him or her for a job well done.

In attendance were four members of the Koons family. Of the 10 brothers in the family, nine of them served in the military; with four serving in Vietnam.

The ceremony then turned more solemn, as photos of Vietnam veterans who have passed away were shown on the screens as the audience applauded and showed their appreciation for their service.

Rita Sullivan then explained that there were five soldiers from Switzerland County who were killed fighting in Vietnam, and that representatives from the families of all of those soldiers were in attendance.

As she read the names: Floyd Wayne Bond, Barry L. Brinegar, Gale W. Dixon, Joseph K. Kirkendall, and Robert J. Williamson – representatives and family members came forward and placed a red rose at the base of a pair of boots at the front of the stage, a symbol of a fallen soldier.

Two “Gold Star Mothers” – mothers who lost a son in combat – were acknowledged as being in attendance: Janet Bond, the mother of Floyd Wayne Bond; and Lorraine McNeely, the mother of Barry Brinegar.

Ernie McKenzie then played ‘Taps’ as the ceremony came to a close; and Vietnam veteran Howard Hazeldean led everyone in singing “God Bless America”.