Remembering the fallen
Vietnam memorial dedicated in Veterans Park
By JIM RUNKLE
LOCK HAVEN — Guest speaker John MacMillan spoke each name – with reverence, or humor or sadness.
As he did so, he provided a glimpse into the life of each fallen Vietnam veteran … Motorhead … sports fanatic … Multi-generational attendee to West Point … Then he told the story of how they ended their lives in a tropical, foreign land, fighting for their lives and protecting the lives of the soldiers with whom they served.
Booby trap … helicopter crash … friendly fire … ambush.
On Saturday, in an over-packed Veterans Park, soldiers who served honorably and with great sacrifice, in an ultimately unpopular war, received their due.
The were honored as they should be.
“Dedicated to the Clinton County residents who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.”
So said the words on the one-page flier distributed at the beginning of the ceremony, and so said we all.
Some of those who attended the gathering, and stood to salute, trembled, from age or emotion.
Many were beyond the time of wearing uniforms or carrying arms.
Ball caps, jackets and sweatshirts, emblazoned with unit names or far-flung regions, marked the living and their willingness, however hobbled by age or infirmity, to honor the men with whom they served.
A new memorial, one that its sponsors, Ken and Karen Shadle, believe is long overdue graces Veterans Park.
It the name, rank, branch of service and home communities of 19 men.
Larry Barner, PFC, USA of Loganton; Kenneth Culvey, Sgt., USA, Lock Haven; George Eaton, SSG, USA, Blanchard; John Edwards, LCPL USMC, Lock Haven; Richard Johnston, PFC, USMC, Lock Haven; Robert Johnston, SGT, USA, Lock Haven; John Keiper, SSgt, USMC, Renovo; James Mayes, PFC, USA, Mill Hall; Charles Merrill Jr., SP4, USA, Lock Haven; Earle Moore Jr., PO1, USN, Renovo; Daniel Myers, LPCL, USMC, Lock Haven; Philip Neff, SP4, USA, Mill Hall; George Nestlerode LTC, USA, Lock Haven; Mark Policastro, PFC, USA, Renovo; Dominic Semintelli Jr., SGT, USAF, Mill Hall; William Smith Jr., SP4, USA, Lock Haven; Frederick Terry Jr., MAJ, USA, Lock Haven; Milford Wensel, CPL, USA, Monument; and Robert Warden, SP5, USA, Lock Haven.
As the names were read, the personal anecdotes of the families were noted, and the manner of death was listed, members of the audience could hardly ignore the ages of these soldiers, Marines and sailors at the time of their demise. This was a young men’s war. These young men stepped up to serve their nation, in a dangerous foreign land.
The freestanding panel was unveiled by Ken and Karen Shadle, in memory of the 19 men from Clinton County who died in a combat zone in Vietnam.
The park across Water Street from the county courthouse has other memorials for heroes from other wars — But this Vietnam roll of honor affords a new observance of a variety of 50th anniversary dates in the Vietnam War.
Fifty years ago, the war was raging and Americans were serving in the U.S. military in that far-away country in southeast Asia.
The memorial, according to all those involved in its creation, was a long-overdue way of saying ‘Welcome Home” with the message received on behalf of those men, by family members, veterans’ organizations, wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and by the survivors of that conflict who stood at attention and saluted when the solemn notes of taps were played by a solitary bugler to mark the end of the ceremony.
Ken, a Vietnam veteran said he just got up one morning and said, ‘I know what I need to do.’
The two of them researched the names and compiled a list of 19. They also appealed to the public for any names they may have missed. All 19 men were either Clinton County residents or had close ties to the county, Karen said.
Bill Bechdel, Clinton County Veterans Affairs director, assisted with the ceremony, which began with vocalist Melissa Barr singing the National Anthem and the Lock Haven University ROTC Honor Guard rendering the colors.
Sean MacMillen, a military veteran who is active on Team Red, White and Blue, acted as master of ceremonies, and his father, John MacMillen, offered a lengthy and poignant and personal view of both his experiences and the experiences of his fellow Vietnam veterans..
Clinton County Commissioner Pete Smeltz lead opening and closing prayers, and Jim Franklin played “Taps.”
The panel was made to resemble the panel commemorating Navy Seal SOC David Michael Collins that already stands in the park.
The Shadles also distributed smaller, commemorative plaques to representatives of each of the veterans’ organizations attending the ceremony, and each Vietnam veteran who attended was presented with a special coin commemorating their service to the nation, and the ceremony itself.
The Dutch Haven catered the dedication with mini-muffins, brownies, cookies, coffee, tea and juices, to encourage people to stay afterward.
As people mingled, they found common cause in memories, emotions and a common bond of brotherhood.
A number of people received thanks for their support of the event, including Sean MacMillen, John MacMillen, Melissa Barr, Pete Smeltz, Dave Bower, Jim Franklin, Devin Bechdel, Team RWB, and the Lock Haven ROTC.