RIO GRANDE — Gallia County’s holiday weekend events are honoring more than the nation’s independence. The 24-hour “Honor Our Heroes” exhibit at Bob Evans Farm features memorials that pay tribute to both local and national heroes of the Vietnam War.
Hosted by the Gallia County Chapter 709 of the Vietnam Veterans and Bob Evans Farm, the event is free and open to the public on July 3-6. The display features the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a memorial for 12 fallen Gallia County Vietnam War veterans and a photo exhibit of more than 800 images titled “Through the Eyes.”
The displays were unveiled to the public on Friday evening after an opening ceremony.
Bob Evans Farm Manager Ray McKinniss welcomed the hundreds of attendees with words of gratitude for veterans and recollected why Bob Evans Farm wanted to display the exhibits.
“I am probably the least likely of all the people in this place at this time to be doing what I’m going to be doing. As I reflect back to why I’m here, the reason’s are simple. All the Vietnam veterans that are here, all the Vietnam veterans that are on the wall, in this audience and that will see the wall this weekend, did what they did so I can do what I do and enjoy what I do to the best of my ability,” he said. “You know, I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’ve seen a lot of this country, as many of you have. I have never had any regrets of anything I’ve ever done, except for one thing. I didn’t really realize it until later in life, but I regret not serving in the conflict of Vietnam and not being in military service.”
The traveling wall is a 3/5-scale replica of the original memorial in Washington, D.C. It is six feet tall at the center and stretches almost 300 feet from end to end, showcasing 72 panels on each wing. The memorial has traveled to 46 states so far and visited more than 300 cities.
Greg Welch, manager of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, spoke about the purpose of the memorial’s construction.
“This wall is about a young boy or girl coming out with their family, looking at a name of an uncle or a grandfather that was taken so many years ago that they only hear about on special family get-togethers. Or maybe it’s about a Gold Star family that comes out and spends some time with a fallen one that, through the course of what happened, are no longer with us and they’re on the wall. But most importantly, this wall is about the Vietnam veteran, some of them coming out here probably for the first time, having never been to Washington,” Welch said.
Larry Marr, president of the Gallia County Chapter 709 of the Vietnam Veterans, and his wife conducted research and found the names, death announcements and stories of 12 Gallia County fallen heroes of the Vietnam War. He read the names during the ceremony: Russell Hamilton (4 May 1966), John O. Finnicum (3 June 1966), Charles Neal (25 April 1967), Wandell Hickman (7 July 1967), Russell Blanton (15 July 1967), Archie Hayman (2 April 1968), Paul Yost (2 May 1968), Cecil Matthew Jr. (19 July 1968), Leslie Brucker (25 August 1968), Roger Hawley (28 March 1969), Fred Mooney (27 February 1971, MIA) and Albert Lee (2 February 1972, MIA.)
The chapter placed markers for each of the fallen Gallia County Vietnam War veterans beneath the panels of the wall where each of the names can be found.
“That loss left a great void in a number of families,” Marr said. “It left a large void in our community.”
The photo exhibit titled “Through the Eyes” features Vietnam War artifacts and more than 800 photographs taken by John Hosier, a Vietnam War veteran and four-time Purple Heart recipient.
“It’s the stories of the jobs that you did in Vietnam. It’s the stories behind and between the names on the wall. It’s an opportunity to walk through an exhibit that shows you what we did, what we carried, how we felt, the sounds we listened to, the dreams we had, the memories of home and the loss of our brothers,” Hoiser said. “Now it’s time for us all to do one thing, which I try to do: Share your stories.”
Tim Gorrell, retired U.S. Army Colonel and director of the Ohio Department of Veteran Services, spoke about the founding of America, the conflict of Vietnam and the special bond formed between Vietnam veterans.
“Through that experience there’s an incredible bond — a steel bond — that our Vietnam veterans have that’s quite unlike any era of veterans because you had to depend on each other when you were in Vietnam, and more so when you came back and through the years,” Gorrell said. “I’m thankful that we as a country can say ‘Welcome home. Thank you. Thank God for your service. Thank you for what you did on our behalf.’”
The traveling wall and the “Through the Eyes” exhibit were ushered into Gallia County with a procession of law enforcement vehicles and hundreds of motorcyclists on Tuesday.
On Sunday morning, local pastor and veteran John Jackson will conduct a service at 9:30 a.m., and the closing ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. with guest speaker U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson.
“Though we will shed many tears, this is not about sorrow,” Hoiser said. ” It’s hard to choose the word, but it’s about a celebration and that celebration belongs to each of us individually. Sometimes it’s a laugh, sometimes it’s tears, lots of times it’s hugs. It’s confronting the ghost in our closet. It’s asking ‘why.’ It’s healing and it’s finding closure.”