NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Vietnam Wall replica at the Nashville National Cemetery with the names of 58,000 service members who made the ultimate sacrifice is both an emotional and an educational place this Memorial Day.
The images of aging soldiers or their family members finding and pointing to the names of lost loved ones are a common site at Vietnam Wall replicas, but almost just as common are the very young brought to the memorial to learn about a conflict where a grandparent may have served.
The replica brought to the historic Nashville National Cemetery is 80 percent the size of the one built on the National Mall in Washington during the 1980s, but many of the thousands who have seen it this past weekend have never been to the original.
Retired Fort Campbell Capt. Harley Baker of Clarksville always looks for a handful of names on the Vietnam Wall that takes him back to a September morning in 1965.
“He was as close to me as you,” said Capt. Baker after he touched the name of one young soldier who died just inches away. “I will never forget it. It gives me chills again just thinking of it.”
While so many at the wall had similar memories of other battles from the decade long conflict that began in the early 1960s, youngsters came with grandparents or mothers and fathers to find out for the first time about what happened in a war that divided the country.
Seven year-old Cassidy Barber learned from his grandpa about those who survived an unpopular war.
“The people who went to the war came back and they were not appreciated like the war veterans now coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Don Goodman to his grandchild.
A few feet away, retired 101st Airborne Captain Harley Baker pointed to the name of Leroy Hicks.
“He was standing closer to me than you are,” said the former Fort Campbell soldier, who still resides in Clarksville. “And all he said was ‘my love Betty Jane I have had it’ and fell to the ground.”
He could point to several close Vietnam buddies who died on a September day in 1965.
“That’s something you don’t forget,” said the retired Captain. “It just makes total chills run down your spine every time I think about it.”
So many of the 58,000 names on the replica wall were touched and remembered.
One was a 19-year-old Marine from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, named Clifton Bowen.
“He got in country about August of ‘68 and he lasted only about a month,” said fellow Marine Terry Carillon.
“In country” is how soldiers like Terry described Vietnam.
It’s a place where he received a Purple Heart, but on this Memorial Day it’s about buddies like Clifton who did not make it.
“We went to boot camp together,” added Terry. “And when we got out of boot camp about three months later and he did not have a way to get back to Bell Buckle, we took him home and that is the last time I seen him. So much youth lost, a lot of potential lost.”
It was a common theme heard at every national cemetery like the one in Nashville.