Citizens set up picnics, pulled over in their cars, decorated their yards and lined the streets and highways Wednesday evening to honor servicemen and women who fell in Vietnam.
“The Wall That Heals” was being escorted back to Newton for its second trip and the welcome back party could not have been more perfect.
The Wall itself is a 250-foot long miniature version of the Vietnam War Memorial and made a grand entrance from Colfax through former U.S. Highway 6 all the way to Maytag Park in Newton. The wall was escorted by representatives of every law enforcement agency in the county, all of the fire departments and what the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department described as a “one mile long” motorcycle escort.
Riding at the head of the pack along with Sheriff John Halferty was Vietnam vet Paul Brown who served in the 173rd Airborne infantry brigade. The 173rd was an all volunteer unit and County Treasurer Doug Bishop jokingly said that, “You had to be crazy to sign up for it.” Brown agreed but responded:
“Whenever anybody got in trouble, they called us to get them out of trouble.”
Brown seemed very pleased about the ceremony.
“This is wonderful,” Brown said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to take the Freedom Flight to Washington, D.C., to see The Wall and the closure that gives a Vietnam vet is just amazing. For us to be able to bring that mobile unit here is just going to be wonderful. It was one of the best days of my life and I’m happy we can share this.”
Amy Delk is on the Freedom Flight Committee and is the secretary of the American Legion Riders and was a part of the mile-long motorcycle escort.
“It’s the Vietnam vets’ day and it’s a long time coming,” Delk said. “We worked hard to get this here and it’s going to be awesome.”
Local Legionnaire Wesley Justus rode his bike fully decked out in his ceremonial Marine uniform along with his wife Mary Jane.
“To help escort the Vietnam Veterans Wall and ride with good friends,” Wesley said of why he was there. “I’m proud to be a part of this. The legion has stuff like this all the time. We are the guys to represent veterans.”
Halferty seemed to be taking it all in as more and more motorcycles seemed to continually poured into the parking lot of Colfax Livestock Sales.
“It’s a great turnout,” Halferty said. “We got a ton of first responders here, lots of riders and I see a lot of local people and a lot of not so local people, so yeah it’s a good turnout.”
Colfax citizen Junior Van Dusseldorp was one of the many people who lined the streets both there, Newton and off of Highway 6.
“It’s just a wonderful thing for everybody,” he said.
When the Wall finally arrived at Maytag Park, Boy Scouts, Old Glory and even more citizens lined both sides of the streets to welcome it to town. The Wall, which will be under 24-hour guard by Jasper County Vietnam vets, will be erected on Thursday, and a formal ceremony will be held. The Wall will be taken down on Sunday so that it can travel to its next stop.
A welcoming ceremony was held with “Taps” being played on bagpipe and a prayer by Vietnam vet Gary Van Baale to honor all of the names on the Wall including four from Jasper County: David McMath, Edward Brue, Ronald Wearmouth, and Franklin Schrader.
Bishop thanked everyone for coming and a moment of silence was observed following the prayer, which turned the once raucous crowd somber.
“It’s to honor our fallen brothers,” Vietnam vet Tom McKinney said of the Wall. “The Jasper County Vietnam Veterans will be hosting guard overnight while it’s here so our brothers won’t have to be alone. I’m glad that Newton citizens get the opportunity to see the Wall on their home turf.”
Bishop, who helped organize the event, seemed to be very proud of the response from citizens and the overall turnout.
“I am continually amazed by the citizens of Jasper County and the support they show our local veterans,” Bishop said. “We are all excited tonight, but I think we are going to be totally thrilled with how this works out this week. We are going to have a great experience. I have a feeling that there is going to be some great healing and some peace they (Vietnam vets) will find within themselves this week.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.