Faith and Honor

PARKERSBURG – People came to remember the fallen and show faith in God on Sunday near the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall at City Park in Parkersburg.

Around 100 people attended a special non-denominational ecumenical service to honor those whose names are inscribed on the memorial for having died in the service of their country.

“We felt what better place to show our faith than right here with the Vietnam Traveling Wall and the people who gave their lives,” said Greg Smith, chairman of the volunteer group organizing activities for the Wall’s display while it is in Parkersburg.

Although rain started and stopped a few times throughout Sunday afternoon’s ceremony, people used umbrellas when needed and put them away when they didn’t.

Parkersburg Mayor Robert Newell welcomed those who came out Sunday and talked about the importance of faith many have throughout this area.

“We have a lot of faith in this community,” he said. “It is very fitting to be here with the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall.

“When we talk about the freedoms that people fight for and die for, this is one of them.”

Being in the United States, those gathered at the park Sunday could participate in a service of faith without anyone opposing their right to do so, the mayor said.

“We are that free,” Newell said.

Greg Welsh, Vietnam Traveling Wall manager, said people are always affected when this type of memorial comes to an area.

“Powerful things happen at the Wall,” Welsh said, quoting a veteran friend of his. “A lot of it is Divine Intervention.”

A lot of people across the country were touched in some way by the Vietnam War. Coming to the Wall has helped many come to terms with the war’s impact on their own lives while other begin to find closure for someone they lost in the war.

“We come out here to pay our respects to those men and women on that wall,” Welsh said. “We come out for them and the community comes out for them.”

A number of musical selections were performed by the New Hope Baptist Church Choir, Paul Wigal and Victor Smith during Sunday’s service.

The Rev. Frank Miller, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a Baptist minister from Ripley, spoke about how God is with people at all time, especially soldiers who have faced a variety of conflicts over the years.

“God is with us,” he said. “I want to share appreciation to you veterans.”

The Vietnam War is the war of his generation, Miller said quoting something Newell had said previously. He shared memories of watching regular television news reports where the number of those killed on a particular day were reported.

“There are 58,209 lives gone, but those dedicated soldiers will never be forgotten,” Miller said. “God is with them.

“Many of them were your brothers, your dads, your grandparents, neighbors and they were a friend. I tell you today that we had better not forget.”

Miller talked about the many electronic wonders available today, things he and others did not have growing up during the 1950s-60s.

“What we did have were young men who were willing to ship off to war, strong and courageous, to fight and uphold the freedoms this nation is so grateful for,” he said. “We are citizens of the greatest and most blessed nation on the face of the Earth.”

He said that, as a people, Americans learned from their mistakes, especially in regards to the veterans of the Vietnam War. They did not get the proper welcome home and many were spat on for their involvement in the war.

“We are sorry, but do not chalk that up as an unacceptable welcome or a total disregard for the most honorable service above self that you gave, because we thank you for what you did,” Miller said. “It was through your faith and your courage, your demeanor and perseverance that you shaped this nation.

“America learned a valuable lesson. We learned from our mistakes and we are now stronger. Vietnam vets, thank you for putting up with us, because we do love you and appreciate what you did.”

Smith talked about his time with the Joint Task Force For Full Accounting when he was in the Air Force in the early 1990s. Their job was to go to southeast Asia and find the remains of lost U.S. servicemen and bring them home. He talked about a couple from Iowa who came to all the way to Hawaii to personally thank the commanding officer of this group for finding the remains of their son and returning him home so he could be laid to rest and they could finally have peace.

Bill Maxwell, a retired English teacher at Parkersburg South High School and a Vietnam veteran, talked about growing up in the Parkersburg area and making a life here after his service was done.

“I think I can speak for all the veterans that we fought to continue our way of life so a boy and a girl could grow up in America in a free country and have a chance to grow up, live and develop and have an education,” he said. “That flag that flies here at City Park, that is what it is all about.”

Maxwell came to City Park this week to honor a friend, Bennie Jones, a fellow Parkersburg High School graduate, who died in Vietnam.

“I pay a tribute to him,” Maxwell said. “He lost his life and God had a reason for me to come back.

“We do this so no one will ever forget again.”

Visitors can come to the memorial throughout the day today. The memorial will be disassembled Tuesday morning and it will go on to its next stop in Ashburn, Ga.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is scheduled to return to Parkersburg for Labor Day Weekend 2016, officials said.