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By Linda Emley
I’ve spent some time the last few days at the Ray County Courthouse helping with the “Remembering Our Fallen of Missouri” exhibit. It’s brought back memories from my childhood about the war in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War lasted for 19 years and 180 days. It started Nov. 1, 1955 and ended April 30, 1975. This war really started before 1955 and it’s still not over for many Americans. We lost 58,000 American lives and there were 350,000 causalities.
We all know someone who served in the war and many of us know someone who died there.
I spent my teenage years in the Vietnam era. Many nights I watched the black and white footage on the evening news and felt guilty that I wasn’t able to do anything about the war. I remember adding “please stop the war in Vietnam and bring our boys home safely“ to my prayers every night.
During the war, we always heard the newsmen talk about the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.”. Even today, when I hear those words, it takes me back to the 1960s and I can still see those war images.
Many years after the war was over, I finally realized why this trail was important. It was the enemy supply line made up of many different routes that were foot trails, vehicle routes, bicycle trails and river routes. If any American saw this trail, it was from an airplane flying high in the sky or a mission that they could never talk about.
There are many movies that try to show us what Vietnam was about. Robin William’s “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “The Deer Hunter” and the classic, “Apocalypse Now,” all tell a story about this war but there are many more stories that haven’t been told.
This picture is Jerry Harrison, a 1959 Richmond graduate with a German Military cadet. It was taken during a summer training camp in Germany. It’s an official U.S. Army picture that I found on a government Web page and is from the Vietnam era.
Major Gen. Jerry Harrison was born in Richmond, the son of Eugene and Crystine Harrison. He graduated in 1959 and went to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he graduated in 1963. He served in Europe, Vietnam, Korea and four assignments in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. After 32 years in the Army, he retired as a major general.
Jerry was appointed to West Point thanks to a local man, Gordon Cupps. Jerry said he remembers being called to the office in high school and being told he was selected to attend West Point.
He played basketball in high school and wanted to play basketball at West Point, but did not make the team. He did make the track team, which gave him a spot at the “varsity table” for meals, which made his years at West Point a lot better.
He said it was all about survival. Jerry graduated number 23 in a class of 504 and he claims it was thanks to the teachers at RHS who prepared him for college.
One of my favorite stories is about his West Point class ring. He lost it in Vietnam and it came back to him a few years later when it was found by another soldier.
An article in the Richmond News deals with the Vietnam era. “Viet Veterans Ask If Ray is ‘Ready’ For a Memorial. That was one of the questions raised Tuesday night at a meeting in Southview Park of a handful of persons who attended an organizational meeting of a Vietnam memorial committee. “ Jim Rippy, a Vietnam veteran and Richmond City Council member called the meeting. Eight Vietnam veterans and six others attended. Some of those attending this first meeting were Lloyd Brune, Ronnie Haynes, Richard Harlin, Judy and Ron Lowery, Rev. John Bowlby, Larry Brice and Jim Rippy.”
Little did everyone know how much time and effort it would take before their dream would become a reality and a Vietnam memorial would be built on Richmond’s square.
This was in the The Kansas City Star July 22, 1987: “Monument dedication set for Saturday. County servicemen killed in Vietnam to be memorialized. A monument scheduled to be dedicated this week will symbolize the fulfillment of a dream held by many Ray County veterans of the Vietnam War. A bronze eagle rests atop the large, eight-sided stone monument built to honor 14 men from the county who died in the Vietnam War. ‘We wanted to keep the memory alive forever of the 14 men killed from Ray County,’ said Jim Rippy, a city councilman and Vietnam War veteran. ‘It has taken 20 years to heal the nation,’ he added. ‘There was no welcome home for these men, but now we can dedicate something to them.’ ”
It was Saturday morning, July 25, 1987 at 10:30 a.m. when the Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated on the lawn of Ray County Courthouse. It was the work of a committee formed two years earlier that raised $20,000 – most of it was from small donations.
Many men, women and children of Ray County joined together for fundraising events. In Orrick, 325 people attended a concert at the Orrick High School where Britt Small and his Festival band preformed. John Musgrave, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, spoke and gave an emotional speech. Another fundraiser was a car full of groceries. $600 worth of groceries was packed in a yellow Mustang on loan from Swafford Ford. Tickets were sold and Carol Williams won the groceries.
A local auction brought in a few more donations. Many of the items were donated by local people, but there was also a celebrity touch. Ed McMahon and Bob Newhart autographs were among the items auctioned. Artist Bill Greer created a picture of a Vietnam Soldier to be auctioned. After the auction, this picture was donated to Ray County Museum and it’s still in the museum collection.
When the memorial was dedicated, it was estimated that we had around 500 Vietnam War veterans living in our county. At that time, they had only located around 150 of them.
The 14 men that died from Ray County in the Vietnam War were Raleigh Godley, Harold Southwick, Edmund Petrechko, David Utley, Dorsie Register, Thomas Sloan, Henry Casebolt, Larry Bunch, Robert Bates, Donald Smith, Harold Loyd, Forrest Dickey, John Price and Marvin McCullough Jr. These names are on the Vietnam Memorial at the courthouse.
There is also a panel dedicated to American prisoners of war and those missing in action. There were no known POWs or MIAs from Ray County, but there were 50 from Missouri. Many of us wore POW bracelets when they were around in the 1960s. Recently these bracelets have been back in the news because I think they are making them again. I wish I had my original one, but I might just have to go out and buy another one.
It’s been 39 years since the war ended and it’s still something that many soldiers don’t talk about. A person came from Washington and made videos of our local veterans telling their stories. There’s a copy of these stories at the Richmond Veterans Memorial Building and at Ray County Library.
These are a way for us to better appreciate what our soldiers experienced.
While I was in Washington, I went to see the Vietnam Memorial Wall and it was a very moving experience. Harold Miller, a veteran and a former Richmondite, shared with me some facts about the wall. There are 58,267 names listed on it, including the ones added in 2010. There are three sets of fathers and sons listed. Harold told me that 997 soldiers were killed their first day in Vietnam and 1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam. The most casualties for a single day was Jan. 31, 1968, when 245 soldiers died. The most casualties for a single month was May 1968 when 2,415 casualties were incurred. There are 31 sets of brothers included on the wall.
War is sad, but without the dedication of these soldiers, our world would be a different place today.