While children played baseball at the Brookside Memorial Park field, a more somber event took place nearby. The children’s freedom — contingent upon the sacrifices of all the veterans names etched on the nearby war memorial, plus many more — was evident in their cheers.
The memorial wall’s Vietnam War section includes nine panels of names etched in stone. A larger font marks the dates, 1964-1973, of a war that began over 50 years ago. Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs briefly spoke on how the Vietnam War was, “an important part of our nation’s history.” He thanked the Daughters of the American Revolution, John Guild chapter for implementing the commemorative service designating that five decades have passed since the start of the Vietnam War.
While the bell tolled for 18 Cape County fallen soldiers, David Hitt, American Legion chairman of committee events, read the names of those in the U.S. Army: Sgt. Carroll Joe Benton, Specialist fourth class Stephen Blake Peel, Specialist fifth class Earl Watson Tharp, Jr., Corporal Robert Lee Taylor, Jr., Specialist fourth class, Marian Troy Eakins, Major John Shelby Burford, Specialist fourth class Terrance Lee Brock, Specialist fifth class, Benjamin Robert Pinkerton, Sgt. Robert Dale McFall, U.S. Marine Corp, SSG Ervin Junior Emrick, Private first class Charles Richard Finley, PFC Gary Leroy Schemel, Lance Corporal Gary Owen Price, Lance Corporal Robert Lynn McCallister; U.S. Air Force, Sgt. William Donald Stepp, Sgt. Billy Jack Hogan, Jr., Captain Elvin Harry Busch, and LTC Robert Raymond Gregory.
Hitt gave credit to Carla Jordan and Julie Nelson for compiling the list.
Dennis Woeltje, past department commander of the American Legion, spoke on the history of the Vietnam War, highlighting that 11,000 women—nearly all volunteers — served in the Vietnam War. Women also served as physicians, air traffic controllers and in other professional positions as well. He provided Marti Strickland, local regent of the John Guild Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution, with pictures of monuments to women who served in Vietnam at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
He said there are over 58,000 names of veterans on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Soldiers who served and are unaccounted for — the POW’s and MIA’s — are numbered at over 1,600, as of 2015.
The number of U.S. soldiers deployed in the Vietnam War — close to the population of the city of Chicago—is 2,594,000. Of that number, 58,220 were casualties; 1,411 of those casualties were from Missouri, said Woeltje.
“The average age of a soldier in the Vietnam War was 22, not 18 or 19,” said Woeltje. Proudly, 97 percent of veterans were discharged honorably and 66 percent voluntarily signed up.
In conclusion, Woeltje said, “The Vietnam War was and is controversial. Those who served deserve our undying thanks and honor. If you see a Vietnam veteran tell them thanks and welcome home.”
Strickland, who mentioned the service also coincided with the national DAR’s 125th anniversary, said she hoped the service would bring comfort to Vietnam War veterans and their families. Veterans in attendance were then asked for to come forward for a commemorative pin.
Taps was played at the end of the ceremony.