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HARRISON – Over the course of only three years, the Veterans Freedom Park Committee managed to purchase and install three statues in the park: a Soldier’s Battlefield Cross, the World War II kneeling infantryman, and the Korean War helmeted, rain-caped G.I. on patrol. Now, four years in, the fourth statue has come to the park, this time to honor those who fought in the Vietnam War.
The statue dedication ceremony, which was held Sunday, June 9 and attended by more than 200 people, included the flag folding ceremony, performed by members of the American Legion Post 404 Honor Guard. Harrison Mayor Stacy Stocking read aloud the meaning of each fold as it was executed.
Renee Haley also addressed those gathered, describing the efforts by the Veterans Freedom Park Committee, which is an all-volunteer endeavor.
“We are veterans,” she said. “Family members of veterans, Gold and Blue Star families. From the very beginning we have been committed to building a park that is unique, unlike anything you will find anywhere else in the state. We have stayed dedicated to Remember, Honor and Reflect all veterans and active duty members.”
Haley said that although it is impossible to mirror the experiences of all service members, the Committee has done its best to make sure all are recognized and honored.
“We have an obligation and an opportunity to educate on all of the facts that serving this great nation has brought,” she said.
Haley went on to say how blessed the Committee had been to have Maye Tessner-Rood spearheading the statue fundraising project over the last four years.
“Without her seeing our vision, this would never be here,” she said.
Haley went on to thank all who had helped with the process and donated the funds that have enabled the statues. She said the installation of the Vietnam War statue was done through volunteer effort, as well, and went on to thank Dave Lipovsky from the Clare County Building Department, Johnny Phelps from the City of Harrison, and Tucker Heintz of Heintz’s Lifting who donated his time and the crane to lift the statue into place.
She spoke of a multitude of statistics regarding the Vietnam War, statistics that would likely come as a surprise to some. They included: The Vietnam War lasted 19 years and 6 months. It was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from Nov. 1, 1955 to the fall of Saigon April 30, 1975. [The U.S. entered Vietnam Feb. 28, 1961.] Nineteen percent of Americans served in Vietnam. According to the Department of Defense and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which maintain official statistics on the number of casualties, 58,307 American military personnel died in or as a direct result of the Vietnam War. There were five U.S. presidents during the Vietnam War.
“All four branches of the military used dogs in Vietnam,” Haley said. “Approximately 10,000 handlers served. Vietnam was the largest concentrated effort of the use of dogs and handlers in any combat era the United States has ever undertaken.”
Haley continued, saying it is estimated that dogs and handlers saved more than 10,000 lives – a fact that is documented.
She then spoke of the Vietnam Memorial Wall and encouraged those who have not yet seen it to do so if possible, then cited some information about that memorial. Haley said there are three sets of fathers and sons on the wall; 39,996 on the wall who were 22 years and younger. The largest age group is 33,103 who were 18 years old. Twelve soldiers on the wall were only 17, and five were 16; 997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam; 1,448 were killed on the last day of their mission; 31 sets of brothers are on the wall, 31 sets of parents lost two children; there are eight women on the wall, nursing the wounded; 244 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War, 153 of them are on the wall;
Maye Tessner-Rood, who has been the driving force behind the statuary fundraising, spoke to the crowd about all the volunteer and generous donation efforts that have resulted in the statuary success for the park.
“Almost everyone who is here today has contributed to this park in some way or brought their family or friends here to honor our Vietnam veterans,” Tessner-Rood said. “For that I thank you all.”
Tessner-Rood thanked all those who got onboard with her chosen Rosie the Riveter “can do” spirit/campaigns. She noted that the largest single donation to the cause had been $500, and the smallest just 50 cents. That 50 cents came from an 8-year-old boy who saw the veterans sign a poster, turned around, dug into his pocket, pulled out all his change and said “Here, I want you to have this.”
Unfortunately, Tessner-Rood has decided to take a break from that work. At least for a while, because fortunately, she is blessed with having family near for a time and plans to make the most of it.
Don Kolander added to the park’s statue fund Sunday, with a $500 donation presented to Tessner-Rood, given on behalf of Parks and Recreation and the Friends of Clare County Parks and Recreation, which had previously contributed $2,000 toward statues.
Former Sheriff Jeff Goyt brought a personal focus, sharing his own experience as a dog handler during the Vietnam War. He restated many of the elements of a letter to the editor which was published in the May 9 issue of the Clare County Cleaver.
He addressed the numbers of dogs used, the job with which they were tasked, and the fact that if the military trained a soldier to be a dog handler, it was understood he would be headed to Vietnam.
“It wasn’t an easy job,” Goyt said. “You were attached to the dog with a 6-foot leash, and you had three canteens: one for you and two for the dog.”
He further explained that there were patrol dogs, sentry dogs, and the Navy even had a dog that could detect the enemy under water.
Goyt said the dogs were trained specifically to protect the handler to protect the base, and to kill on command. He spoke of a dog named Nemo, whose handler having heard an alert, released his dog.
“The handler said, ‘All I could hear was small arms fire and screaming of the enemy as the dog tore into each one of them.’”
Goyt said it was standard practice that a military dog would be euthanized when it reached 8 years of age. It also was noted that 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam, and that when the end of the war came all the dogs still in Vietnam were euthanized. They did their job of protecting U.S. troops and engaging the enemy, but they did not come home.
“Nemo, however, did get back to the States,” Goyt said. “He was used to recruit dogs for the military.”
The ceremony included calling out the names of those Clare County residents who lost their lives in that conflict, with a historic brass bell tolled by Joe Bradley as each name was read by Dale Tritten. Those names included: Paul C. Bovan, Bernard J. Henry, Robert E. Jones, Steve J. Laverty, John F. Macule, Michiel D. Murray, Karl F. Schrank, Barry A. Thompson and John W. Hinkle.
Then all those Vietnam Veterans present who wished to do so, gathered around to do the unveiling of the statue – a statue being dedicated in memory of their service, and all the many branches and elements of service which combined in a unified effort on behalf of the people of South Vietnam, and freedom itself. The unveiling was greeted by a round of applause, followed by reverent regarding of the bronze soldier – a handler and his dog. The handler’s expression is focused, alert. The dog’s gaze flows in the same direction, on guard and ready for action.
After the ceremony was over, Renee Haley offered some comments to the Cleaver.
“It’s an honor to be able to be part of a celebration supporting all of our veterans especially the Vietnam Era,” she said. “They blazed the trail for those of us who served after them. I’m grateful for sure.”
Haley asked an older veteran what he thought of the statue, and he responded, “It’s fantastic. I like the dogs. I never got to see them in Vietnam, but we heard about them. It was a good thing, too.”