Story by Maj. Frank Howard, 181st IW/Executive Officer
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - On Saturday morning October 6, 2012, members of the 181st Intelligence Wing assembled in formation for the re-dedication of the Vigo County Vietnam War Memorial.
The Vietnam War still conjures strong, mixed emotions in the United States. More than 58,000 names of U.S. service members killed in Vietnam are carved into the black granite slabs of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Located at the Vigo County Courthouse is a memorial with a bronze plate listing 27 of those names from Vigo County.
For decades, the Vigo County Vietnam War Memorial stood alone from the other memorials, a symbol of the men it represents.
“As a Vet, when we came back, we weren’t recognized. We just came home, went back to life, and were forgotten. We just started over,” said Vigo County Commissioner Paul Mason.
Earlier this year, Paul Mason, and fellow County Commissioner Patrick Ralston, both Vietnam veterans, decided to move the monument into the Vigo County Veterans Memorial Plaza. Their campaign raised the $18,000 needed to relocate the monument.
Mason said when the Veterans Memorial Plaza was dedicated he noticed the Vietnam Memorial was by itself. It needed to be moved in order to recognize the men who had served and made the ultimate sacrifice serving their country.
As part of the re-dedication, Mason and Ralston decided the current generation of Indiana airmen and soldiers needed to be involved. Mason respects and honors the vital service today’s Indiana Air National Guard and Army National Guard provide to the state and country.
“It’s important to see current members of the armed forces who are also part of the local community at these events,” said Mason.
Col. Donald Bonte, commander of the 181st Intelligence Wing, Terre Haute, Ind., was the master of ceremonies for the re-dedication.
Bonte noted in an interview how the members of the armed forces returning home from combat today are shown much greater appreciation than those who served in Vietnam. Events like the Vietnam Memorial re-dedication allow current military members to show how much we respect those who served before us.
“We are treated better due to them, and the American public never wants what happened to them, to happen again,” said Bonte.
Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, was the keynote speaker during the re-dedication.
During his speech, Umbarger noted the irony of having the Memorial on the west side of the courtyard by itself and the symbolic importance of rejoining the memorials to our nation’s other conflicts.
The event was especially important for the Vietnam veterans and their families. Ralston is thankful veterans today are not treated the same way as he and other Vietnam veterans were treated.
Ruthie Gallington witnessed the ceremony in memory of her husband, Dennis Gallington. “This ceremony means everything in the world,” she said. “Dennis left for Vietnam three weeks after we married in 1968. He wrote to me every night, and I still have the letters.”
Jim York, another witnesses to the ceremony called it, “Wonderful.” York was a Forward Observer during the Tet Offensive and said the re-dedication was due. “It was heartfelt and wonderful,” he said.