Traveling Memorial Inspires Mix of Emotions in Tennessee

James Dean, left, assisted Ricky Brown in etching his uncle’s name from the Tennessee Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall displayed in Cleveland, TN. PHOTO BY Joyanna Love, The Cleveland Daily Banner

Flags lined either side of the memorial. Names of the fallen were etched on a black background.

At the base of the wall, memorabilia from the Vietnam War and medals of soldiers were displayed.

Styled after the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., the Tennessee Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall records the names of those from Tennessee who had died fighting in Vietnam. The Vietnam War lasted from 1961 to 1973.

Local Vietnam Veterans of America Edward G. Sharpe Chapter 596 , in partnership with the VVA chapter in Hamilton County, brought the portable memorial to Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, TN  last week. Yellow stickers marked the names of those from Cleveland, Athens and Decatur who died in the war.

James Dean, Chapter 596 president, said there are 1, 291 names listed. Some of the names denote those who were never found, and are presumed to be dead.

The memorial was created by the Hamilton County Chapter 203  of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“It’s to honor these guys. These guys are heroes, ” Hank Baker of VVA Chapter 596 said.

Dean said the memorial was requested to be brought to Bradley County by a resident, so the Hamilton County Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter asked the local chapter if they would take care of it.

Just like the Washington D.C. memorial, visitors to the Bradley County memorial could create an etching of their loved ones’ names.

Evelyn Brown found her older brother’s name, James Lee Daniel, on the wall.

“He died in 1967. He was a helicopter pilot. He ran into a mountain. It was dark and foggy, ” Brown said.

Brown said her brother flew the medical helicopter to pick up the wounded.

She was in her early 20s when he died.

The local VVA members were also able to help residents find out more about how their loved one died in the war.

“We had a lady come the other day and she was looking for a name and it was her husband, and she didn’t know how he died, ” Dean said.

Dean was able to look in the information that Vietnam Veterans of America had compiled and tell her that her husband died in a helicopter crash. Dean said the chapter had information on each of the people killed in the line of duty in the Vietnam War from Tennessee. Another book listed all of the names of U.S. troops who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.

“It brings back sadness and a lot of memories. I have a lot of friends’ names in that book [of U.S. casualties] over there. I want it [the memorial] to honor the living of those who passed away during the Vietnam War, ” Baker said. “I’m honored to be a part of this.”

Baker said he was able to explain to those who stopped by the memorial “a little bit about who these people are, especially the ones they might know.”

The memorial had special meaning for Wesley Bitonti who served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2007.

“It is good that they do stuff like this because it’s important, ” Bitonti said.

Standing at the memorial, he said the recognition for the fallen soldiers was “awesome.” He said it was important to support the veterans who did survive, while honoring those who did not.

During Bitoni’s time in the service, he was deployed to Iraq. A tattoo on his forearm serves as his personal memorial to the friends he lost.

“They all had some kind of impact in my life, ” Bitoni said.

In addition to providing information about the war and those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, local VVA chapter members were also sharing information about what the organization is and what it does.

“There may be Vietnam Veterans who don’t know we have a chapter here in Cleveland, ” Baker said.

The portable memorial was returned to the Hamilton County VVA after its brief showing in Cleveland.


Source: The Cleveland Daily Banner  


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