A replica of the traveling Vietnam memorial makes a stopover in Cabot

Military veterans and their families gathered Friday for a Veterans Day service in Cabot, where a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – the wall bearing the names of those killed in action in Vietnam – was on display and the head of the American Legion urged veterans to “be the one” to intervene with comrades at risk of suicide.

The traveling wall, called “The Healing Wall”, is a three-quarter scale portable replica of the black granite monument in Washington, D.C. It bears the names of more than 58,000 people killed between 1959 and 1975 and travels the country in during the year from spring until Veterans Day.

The wall will be erected and open to the public at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot until Sunday as part of its final shutdown in 2022. This is the first time, the American Legion spokesman said. ‘Arkansas, Ken Dover, the wall has ever been in Arkansas. veterans day.

The exhibit offers a way for war veterans to experience the memorial without traveling to the nation’s capital, said American Legion Commander Jim Troiola.

“A replica of the Vietnam Memorial also belongs to places like Cabot,” Troiola said. “It’s the heart of the country. You shouldn’t have to travel to Washington to see such a memorial.”

Arkansan Fred Campbell, who served in Vietnam from June 1968 to June 1969, described his first time seeing the life-size wall in the capital as a deeply humbling experience.

“If a person has never seen this wall, this wall will bring back a lot of memories. It’s a beautiful wall,” Campbell said, gazing at the field where the movable wall had been erected.

Campbell was assigned to Bravo Company in the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Parts of the division were rushed from the United States into Vietnam after the surprise attacks known as the Tet Offensive, launched in late January 1968.

When Campbell, then a 20-year-old staff sergeant, arrived in the country, he was put in charge of an infantry platoon in the highlands of Vietnam, he said. Staff sergeants usually lead squads or sometimes help a lieutenant lead platoons, but due to lack of officers Campbell and many others like him took on the role.

His platoon, usually 40 or 50 strong, was only 18 strong, and the company’s other platoons faced the same shortage of men, he said.

“Unfortunate things happen, you know,” Campbell said. “I was lucky that I didn’t lose anyone while I was a platoon sergeant.”

Campbell said he was still trying to track down Christie Buck, a lieutenant with whom he served in Vietnam. Most of the men only knew each other by their surname or nickname. For example, although Campbell and his platoon radioman were practically strapped at the hip during his tour, Campbell only knew him by his surname, Murphy, and had not heard from him since the war.

Although it has been more than 50 years since Campbell was in Vietnam, he said he sometimes felt like he was still there when certain memories came to mind. Upon his return to the United States, he said he did not have to deal with the anti-war sentiment that some of his comrades were dealing with.

“The only bad thing that happened to me when I got home was that they parked the plane near where the protesters were,” Campbell recalled with a smile.

“Life has been good to me,” he said.

Another Arkansan, John Steer, then 18, arrived in Vietnam about a year before Campbell with another paratroop unit, he said.

Steer served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade and lost his right arm below the elbow in fierce fighting with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment against the North Vietnamese Army in November 1967.

He first worked with the unit’s mortars, but felt it was unfair that mortars suffered fewer casualties than regular infantry, so he wanted to be on the front line.

“Most guys didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole with me. They thought I was a little crazy,” Steer said. “And I guess I was.”

In addition, Steer said he frequently marched point – leading man in the column, closest to the enemy.

“I shot a lot of points, and really it’s pretty safe if you don’t get hit,” Steer said.

Once, Steer came across an explosive charge – a trap left by the enemy to kill American soldiers – in front of him in the trees.

“I’m dead, they’re going to pick up pieces of me from these trees as far as the eye can see,” Steer remembers thinking.

But, the explosive did not detonate and was safely removed and disposed of by the men. Steer attributes his survival to his faith in God, he said.

“God was with me throughout Vietnam,” Steer said. “There are so many times I should have been killed but I wasn’t. It’s unbelievable.”

During the fighting at a location known as Hill 875, many men from Steer’s unit were killed or wounded, and he was found lying under dead bodies two days after he was first hit. did he declare. No one expected him to survive long enough to return to the field hospital, and no one at the field hospital expected him to survive the first surgeries.

But Steer survived and went to a hospital in Japan, where doctors believed he would lose his leg as well as his arm. Steer also proved them wrong, eventually returning to the United States after about nine months in that Japanese hospital. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the battle.

Today he uses an electric wheelchair, which hasn’t stopped him from seeing the portable wall or talking with other veterans and their families. One of his grandsons was at his side.

On Friday, Troiola addressed a crowd of veterans of all ages, ranging from Donald Gohman, 98, of Cabot, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, to those who served in the most recent American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. .

He challenged them to take action and care for their fellow veterans who are facing suicide and other threats at a higher rate than the general public.

In 2020, for example, the suicide rate among veterans was 31.7 per 100,000 people, compared to 16.1 per 100,000 among non-veterans, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ annual report on the prevention of suicide of veterans published in September.

On average, 16 veterans died by suicide per day in 2020, the VA report showed, after peaking in 2018 at around 18 per day. Some veteran advocates, including the nonprofit America’s Warrior Partnership, believe that number is an undercount, possibly a gross figure.

Also during Friday’s ceremony, retired Col. Mike Ross, an Iraq War veteran who started veterans’ relief organization Veterans Villages of America, spoke about the importance of supporting veterans. combatants in need of medical and psychological assistance who have been abandoned by the VA.

Thursday was the 247th anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps, but Ross was at the funeral of a Marine veteran who took his own life, he said.

“What we’re doing isn’t working,” Ross said.

Ross talked about talking to politicians for help, but said they usually promise more than they deliver, so his organization tries to provide real-world help to veterans — housing, food, jobs, help in Mental Health. He petitioned the governor for money to help build transitional housing for veterans on his property and worked to have the Arkansas Department of Corrections provide veterans imprisoned for nonviolent crimes more rehab options through veterans aid groups like his.

Meaningful intervention with a veteran doesn’t have to be drastic, Troiola said. It can be as simple as striking up a conversation with them and sincerely asking how they are doing.

“Think of the impact each of us could have if we all pledged to be the one to stop a veteran from taking his own life,” Troiola said. “Collectively we can save thousands.

Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association state AR-7 quartermaster Brian Wall walks the field of honor after Friday’s Veterans Day ceremony at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

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