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Traveling Vietnam Wall Moves Plenty of Hearts

The traveling wall is 360 feet long, end to end.
The traveling wall is 360 feet long, end to end.

By: Joleene DesRosiers Moody
MEXICO, NY – The clouds above the Edick-Hamlink VFW in Mexico look threatening Thursday evening. A light drizzle begins to fall as Dawson Hayden of Fulton leans closer into the black wall that stretches out before him.

He glances up at me and then turns back to the wall.

Dawson Hayden recalls the day his platoon was ambushed.
Dawson Hayden recalls the day his platoon was ambushed.

“I’m looking for nine boys I loaded onto a helicopter on the 15th of June in 1967,” he said.

“What are their names?” I ask him. “I can help.”

He produces a piece of paper with the names of nine enlisted men and one lieutenant.

“Chase, Davis, Sanchez – there are more. Here,” he says pointing to the paper. And then he says again, “I loaded nine boys onto a helicopter. They were all young boys. Some of them weren’t even 20.”

He laughs nervously as he shifts his eyes from the wrinkled paper to the wall.

“We walked into an ambush,” he remembers. “We were getting shot at from one village and so we went through another village. They were shooting at us from the tree line on the other side. The next thing we knew, we were caught in what they call a horseshoe ambush. They were shooting at us from three sides. Before we got done, those nine boys were dead.”

Kenneth Bundy (pictured in the red hat) visits the wall with friends and family from Boonville.
Kenneth Bundy (pictured in the red hat) visits the wall with friends and family from Boonville.

Together we find a few of the names toward the bottom of the panel, a difficult task when you consider there are 58, 271 other names total etched on the wall. The panels, however, are separated by day and year of death, minimizing the search for Hayden.

“It was like it was yesterday,” he tells me as he touches one of the names.

Behind us, opening ceremonies are about to begin. Senator Patty Ritchie is on hand. The honor guard is lined up, their rifles stiffly by their sides. Close to 200 people gather around a small, white tent, meant to keep a podium and accompanying wires dry. I thumb through the program handed to me by a volunteer.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute is a veteran-owned project committed to traveling across the U.S. to honor, respect and remember those who served.

The honor guard waits for their cue during opening ceremonies.
The honor guard waits for their cue during opening ceremonies.

It is 360 feet long, end to end, and its tallest point is 8-feet high.

Its magnitude, however, rests not with its length or height, but with the thousand of names that remind us of the sacrifices made in a place that has been described time and time again as a living hell.

Kenneth Bundy of Pulaski remembers the hell.

But today, he chooses to embrace the memory of those that are no longer here.

“For me this wall brings back a lot of memories of time served in Vietnam. There are two good friends of mine on that panel there,” he said as he points to a portion of the wall as his voice trails off. He swallows hard and turns back to me. It takes him a moment to find his voice again. When he does, he says, “It’s like having them home.”

I nod. There is a lump in my throat.

“It never stops, because you always think of all that they have missed,” he tells me. “Every thing good that I have, they never had a chance to have. And I will never let their memory die because of that. That’s why I come to events like this.”

Putting a face to the name - A soldier's picture sits below his name.
Putting a face to the name – A soldier’s picture sits below his name.

I thank Kenneth for his time and walk slowly back to the pavilion where my 8-year-old daughter waits for me. She has never seen the wall. She doesn’t even know what it is.

“Come with me,” I say to her.

Together, we walk to where Dawson Hayden stood just moments before. I explain to her that the wall is a replica of the original in Washington, D.C. I tell her what it means.

She is in awe at the number of names.

“They all died?” she asks me.

“Yep. With honor,” I reply.

She looks up and down the panel before us. And then she looks at me.

“Wow. Those men were brave.”

Kenneth Bundy points to the name of a friend he lost in the war over 40 years ago.
Kenneth Bundy points to the name of a friend he lost in the war more than 40 years ago.

The respect that veterans Dawson Hayden and Kenneth Bundy have for their comrades is immeasurable.  It is honorable and runs deep.

The respect that visitors have is also palpable, and fills the crowd with a sense of pride. Twenty-two of the names on the memorial are Oswego County veterans, yet every single name on the wall reminds us of what was, what is, and what we hope will never again be.

The wall is available to the public for viewing at the Edick-Hamlink VFW in Mexico for 24 hours until Sunday.

There will be a closing ceremony at 4 p.m. The wall will be disassembled at 6 p.m.

Dawson Hayden has found the name of one of the nine men he helped carry out of an ambush in 1967.
Dawson Hayden has found the name of one of the nine men he helped carry out of an ambush in 1967.
More than 58,000 names are etched on the traveling wall.
More than 58,000 names are etched on the traveling wall.

2 Comments

  1. Welcome home, Dawson! Your are a good friend now and back then as well. They all remember you.

  2. You were my first love, Gus. I was 9 or 10, and you were 13. I followed you everywhere I could, next door neighbor. You put up with that puppy of a tomboy in flipflops with humor and good grace. It only made me more devoted.

    When you were 18, you signed up and went to ‘nam. You were my hero. You were an only son, but you did your duty to family and country. I asked your mom and dad how you were doing when I wasn’t busy running back and forth to high school activities.

    You completed your tour, and came home, but the school you and your buddies had been building played across your heart, and you were still there in spirit. So you returned to Vietnam, and those children you loved.

    At the end of your second tour, the boat you were on returning home, was hit in the South China sea. You were thrown across the deck, crashing in your skull. Months later, with a metal plate in your head, you were released from duty and sent home. You were never well again. And your parents worried for you. Less than two years later, you died.

    You are probably not considered a medal of honor winner. You didn’t die in combat. Heck, you didn’t even die while in the service. But YOU are one of the casualties of war, and I believe you should have that medal that is given for bravery and valor.

    I’ve looked on the memorial for your name, but not found it. I think you, and all those that died BECAUSE of the war should be there, no matter what. War is hell, and there is no doubt to me that Vietnam was an especial hell on earth!

    When I’ve visited the traveling Memorial in Fulton, (and hope to make it again in Mexico) NY, I think of you, and say a prayer. I know you are there in spirit, and I hope someday to see your name added in an addendum. I believe your time has come. You can almost feel the reverence within the walls that contain those heroic names. The birds and the breeze of the real world seem to recede and a feeling of awe strikes everyone there. Even children seem quieter. The effect is memorable. As it should be.

    Debbie Keppel Engelke

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