Local Vietnam veterans honored in ceremony at ‘The Wall’

Local Vietnam veterans at Thursday’s ceremony are, from top, at left, John Delaney, Ron Jones, Fred Miller, George Crouse, Carlton Cannon; Robert “Chip” Rager, Sam Shoemaker, Craig Yarnell, Jimmy Stewart, Tom Gordon; John Shoemaker, Roger White, Meat McCaslin, Gary Brooks, Lee Brooks; Brent Pasquinelli, Truman Hibbler, Rich Myers, Gaylan Klobe. At right, from top, are Carol Terry and escort Shawna Mumma; Joe Worrick, Dave Kinley; John Cole, Jerry Winner, Dean Wetzler; Tink Cummings, Mike Dunlap, Eli Duck. LANA MUTHLER/THE EXPRESS

STATE COLLEGE — “We have waited a long time for this event and I want to welcome every Vietnam veteran home. We are literally surrounded by heroes this evening.”

The words of Vietnam vet Brent Pasquinelli set the stage for a solemn ceremony honoring local Vietnam veterans.

A huge crowd, perhaps 500, sat and stood beneath a large white tent in Innovation Park for the opening ceremonies of The Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall’s visit to Centre County on Thursday evening. Others stood in the rain under umbrellas, not wanting to miss any part of this emotional experience.

Behind them, the vastness of the wall stood tall, its panels telling the sad story of a generation of young men who never came back from the jungles and swamps of Vietnam.

Dark clouds loomed above and a steady rain fell, but the weather could not put the damper on this patriotic event that brought together 50 local Vietnam veterans for special recognition.

Oh, these veterans have certainly changed in 50 years, now sporting gray hair and walking a bit slower… some with canes and walkers… than that time when they were barely out of their teens and were sent to a faraway land to fight for their lives and for their country.

But their pride and patriotism is steadfast,

You could see it on their faces as they walked, two by two, into the tent to receive a lapel pin for their service. Some even wiped tears from their eyes as they perhaps remembered a time they’d like to forget.

It was a quiet procession and it meant a lot to this group — who would answer the call of duty all over again if asked — who were finally being recognized for their courage and bravery… 50 years later.

These are the men and women who make America the greatest country in the world. And they showed their strength and fortitude as they strutted their stuff on this night.

Of the 50 veterans honored, the largest contingent came from Clinton County.

It was a homecoming for some, as they walked into the park and recognized each other, shaking hands, hugging and sharing conversation. Credit goes to David Bower, VFW service officer in Lock Haven, who served on the wall committee and let local veterans know of the event, encouraging them to participate.

And they responded in a big way.

It was certainly a proud night for our community.

Sitting among the veterans was Carol Terry of Lock Haven, whose husband, Major Frederick Terry Jr., lost his life during his third tour in Vietnam. Terry was called to place a wreath at the wall in honor of her husband and the 58,152 others who died in Vietnam and whose names are listed on the wall.

Also in the audience was Dorothy Rager of Lock Haven. At age 93, she sat quietly by herself watching and listening. Dorothy served in the Navy during World War II, but on this day she was here with her son, Robert “Chip” Rager, a Vietnam veteran honored at the ceremony.

Pasquinelli, of State College, said that 3,000 names on the wall are of Pennsylvania men and women who died in the Vietnam war.

“The largest age group on the wall is 19 years of age, and over 50 percent of those killed were under age 22,” he continued.

“And the list is growing,” he said, explaining that names are being added to the wall as Vietnam veterans die from conflict-related diseases.

Capt. Ryan McCombie, a Navy seal who served in Vietnam, called the veterans in the crowd “true American heroes.”

“Fifty years ago… 1967… they called it the summer of love,” he said remembering songs by the Beatles and the Mamas and Papas that were all about love.

“Everybody was loved and welcome… except the men and women in uniform. We weren’t welcome in the parks, the beaches or the universities… During this summer of love, 3,000 of these outcasts were killed. They died in a conflict our government refused to call a war.

“When we arrived home, we were not welcome… we were not welcome in the country that we swore to protect. Now, 50 years since that summer of love… today… we welcome home all our vets and recognize the sacrifices they made.”

“This wall is more than a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice, it’s an eternal reminder that our sons and daughters who fought our wars are welcome in our country,” McCombie concluded.

Pasquinelli thanked everyone who attended the ceremony. “You have no idea how this makes us feel. It’s a truly remarkable display of patriotism and support,” he continued.

He told his fellow veterans, “This ceremony is intended as a healing experience, and we offer you our deepest appreciation for your courage, commitment and valor.”

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