REEDSVILLE — Fallen Vietnam veterans from Mifflin and Juniata counties and their families received an emotional welcome home Thursday with a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of each soldier who lost his life.
Hundreds showed for the opening ceremony of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Memorial Wall that was set up at Reedsville Playground on Honey Creek Road.
During the ceremony, members of Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 791, gave a brief background of each of the 22 soldiers who lost their lives during the war.
George Baughman, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 791, the organization which brought the wall to Mifflin County, described bringing the wall to the Reedsville as a “healing moment.”
“It is a healing moment for the names that are written on the wall. It is a healing moment for the families that lost their loved ones. It is a healing moment for the ones who came back with disabilities — both physical and mental. It is a healing moment for the ones that suffered from Agent Orange and still suffer to this day. It is also a healing moment for those during that troubled time in our history that protested the war, but who helped bring about the end. It is a healing moment for all of us,” he said.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, who spoke during the ceremony, stated that while he did not serve during the Vietnam War, his mother encouraged him to write letters to family and friends who did.
In his mother’s remembrance, he recited a saying that she used to tell him.
“It’s never too late in life to say ‘thank you’ or (give) an apology. So to all those Vietnam veterans and family members that we never properly acknowledged, respected or said ‘thank you’ to, I apologize, and I would also like to say ‘thank you for your service.'”
Benninghoff said he felt it was important for attendees to walk the length of the wall “to totally grasp the importance and significance of the well over 58,000 individuals” listed on it.
“While this conflict may have ended 35 years ago or better, the impression and pain and suffering continues to go on,” he said. “We must be mindful of the families who suffered all these losses. That pain doesn’t go away. Time goes on. We get a little grayer. Things change, but the pain is just as sharp.”
Christine Dearment, director of the Mifflin County Veterans Affairs, who spoke Thursday, said at the time, she was “oblivious to what was happening to my country.”
She said she learned through her position with the VA “by seeing, hearing and really listening to what they had to say.”
Dearment said while it is common for veterans to speak openly about what they witnessed during the “horrific” war, “others don’t want to talk about it. But I could see the tears they shed…I could see the pain in their eyes.”
Dearment described some services the VA offers veterans and their families, including medical benefits, disability compensation and pension.
Dennis Hutchings, director of the Juniata County Veterans Affairs, also spoke Thursday.
“When I look up and down these rows, I think it’s amazing that each and every one of these names had a family that someone cared for,” he said. Hutchings said he finds it “amazing” when people thank him for his service.
“I find it kind of disheartening because we didn’t get that when we came home.”
Posting of colors was done by Vietnam Veterans of America Color Guard. Prayer was offered by Pastor Mike Bailey.
Today, a recognition of Vietnam veterans will be held at 6:30 p.m. A gift of service will also be received.
The wall will be available for viewing through Sunday.