“We Remember: Dinner with the Families” was conducted at Bayside Boardwalk on a Friday night, one day before the Oregon-Jerusalem Vietnam Memorial was dedicated at Clay High’s Memorial Stadium.
The banquet was originally planned for 150 guests, but quickly ballooned to 175 guests. The family of Ervin E. Harris, who was killed in action November 29, 1968, brought 30 of its members, and other families of eight area veterans who lost their lives in Vietnam brought 10-15 members.
The other veterans include Arthur J. Heringhausen, Jr. (KIA 11/20/1968), Gerald E. Corlett (3/16/70), Joseph G. Gill (5/5/68), Esiquio A. Cantu (3/26/67), John M. Thayer (10/17/70), John W. Vaughn (6/17/67), and Scott D. Corrello (6/8/68). All served in the U.S. Army, except Thayer, who was in the Air Force.
About 20 veterans who served with these men were present at the ceremony, including some that traveled from states like Washington, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
One of them, James Wood, arrived for the banquet from his home in Laurens, South Carolina. But “Jimmy” Wood, who served on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam, had grown up in Oregon, and was with Gill in Vietnam the evening before he was killed.
Jerry A. Eversman, committee chairman of the Oregon Vietnam Memorial Group in charge of building the memorial, recognized three organizations that helped with the efforts. Board members from the Toledo Soldiers Memorial Association, an organization dating back to the 1950s, were present, as well as two members from the United Muslims Association, of which 250 are U.S. veterans and one member present at the banquet was the father of a Vietnam veteran.
Members of the Vietnam Veterans Association, Chapter 35, and officers from the Oregon-Jerusalem Historical Society also joined the banquet.
Distinguished guests included State Senator Teresa Fedor (District 11), a Vietnam veteran with the 180th Tactical Fighter Wing, Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, Oregon Mayor Marge Brown, and Municipal Court Judge Jeffrey B. Keller.
Mayor Brown described herself as “no stranger to the veteran’s community” because at the age of 7, a man arrived at her home to let her mother know that her older brother, Clay graduate James TenEyck, was killed in Italy during World War II.
Before the banquet began, Amanda Kleindience, the grand nephew of Irvin Harris, sang the national anthem, and Vietnam veteran Gene Shurtz, gave the invocation. Shurtz, an Oregon resident, was an officer in Vietnam and is chaplain for the local VVA chapter.
Shurtz served as an officer in Vietnam and is a member of the VVA. After the invocation, he gave his perspective on the effort to find the veteran’s family members and to research the history of local veterans involved in the Vietnam War.
“In ‘Nam, which is what vets called that place halfway around the world, people had a hard time getting close to one another,” Shurtz said. “It was even harder for ‘cherries,’ or new guys, to get close and that sometimes caused a problem within the unit, so they developed ways to isolate themselves at times with nicknames.
“Everybody gave each other nicknames and didn’t now each other’s real names, and now they are trying to find each other,” Shurtz continued.
Shurtz read a poem he had written about the war describing in detail the horrors of Vietnam. He said he developed the poem “even though some people felt we didn’t win (the war).”
The keynote speaker was Major General (Retired) Judge J. Ronald Bowman. General Bowman presided over the Lucas County Common Pleas Court over 20 years after serving in the retired U.S. Army 42 years.
As of May, 2002, General Bowman was the highest ranking veteran in Lucas County. He had been decorated five times, including three Battle Stars and one Bronze Star.
General Bowman opened his dialogue with a rendition defining a soldier when faced with combat. He compared the Vietnam War with the nation’s other wars, stressing all wars are very much the same for the combat soldier.
“The G.I.’s bled the same, they died the same, and they missed their families in the same way,” Gen. Bowman said. “Who of us can pay for the lives of countless others who have paid the supreme sacrifice? The answer is none of us can pay in cash the sacrifices these soldiers gave with their lives.”
General Bowman compared the Oregon-Jerusalem Vietnam Memorial to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., which has 50,000 names inscribed.
“An unforgettable truth for those of us with combat experience on the battle field is that death is never pretty. Those who have been in combat can tell you what combat is really like. Pain that never stops, the blood that won’t stop, that’s what it’s really like,” the general continued.
Oregon resident Robert Stewart, a Waite graduate, Vietnam veteran, and member of the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, closed with his own poem, describing his Vietnam experience in graphic detail. His speech that followed brought a standing ovation from guests.
“I try to keep busy to forget about all that (Vietnam),” Stewart concluded. “This opens up old wounds — wounds that never really seem to go away.”
Stewart, who remembered the death of John Thayer exactly 38 years ago, to the day, said Americans may not have had a friendly welcome for returning Vietnam veterans then, but they still have a chance.
“You think that we’re gone, but look around you at this room,” Stewart said.