Stories at the moving wall: Memories still carry as much weight as ever

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., holds with its black granite fašade over 58,000 names along with the heartbreak of the family and friends of those names that never saw their loved ones come home and the story of how they gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

The moving wall on display at the Clark County 4-H Fairgrounds, Thursday through Monday at noon, transcends the fact that it is a half-size replica of the monument erected in Washington, D.C., bringing the feelings and emotions that are inexorably linked to viewing such a display.

Below are three stories of those who visited the moving wall this weekend to remember, mourn and pay their respects to the military men and women that died over 30-years ago.

Former Marine lieutenant Bob McIntosh:

Bob McIntosh, 64, was in his early 20s when he landed in Vietnam as a young Marine lieutenant. The time he spent as a platoon commander would impact his life and how he chose to lead it after he was removed from war.

“When you go to war it sticks with you,” he said. “You see man’s inhumanity to man at its worst; it’s something you never forget.”

McIntosh was stationed in Con Thien — a U.S. combat based in South Vietnam — in October 1967.

After several days of fierce bombardment, an experienced McIntosh described as the closest to hell he’s ever been, his unit moved to a position away from the shelling.

“It was a completely different world,” he said when they had moved out of the line of fire.

McIntosh, shortly after arriving to his position away from the barrage, took out a convoy as a favor to another lieutenant while a monsoon-like rain poured down on the Marines.

The position he occupied was being overwhelmed with water, while McIntosh was now located at an artillery base atop a hill.

The lieutenant he was doing the favor for, along with another lieutenant and two sergeants, went back to help men caught by the rushing water.

“Two sergeants and two lieutenants drowned saving their men,” he said. “They were free, they were out of there and they went back to make sure their men were safe. They actually gave their lives trying to save other Marines.”

Those men left a particular impact on McIntosh because they epitomized the values preached in Marine principles and paid with the ultimate sacrifice.

“To me they represent the best this country has to offer,” he said. “I don’t know how to put into words how I feel about it. Those are the [men] that stick in my mind more than any others, the ones that not only gave their life, but gave their lives either saving their own men or risking their lives to save someone else. You don’t find people with that type of character and that type of caliber in life very often.”

The experience created an intense and life-long bond with McIntosh and the men he served with during the Vietnam War.

“It’s like an arrow going through your heart when you lose some of your men as a platoon commander,” he said.

But his experience also directed McIntosh how he would live the rest of his life.

“I made three promises to myself when I left Con Thien: I promised as I go through life enjoy every day because you never know when your final day is, because I saw it snuffed out very easily; as you go through life, try and give something back to the community; and if I ever had the opportunity [to] try and make it harder for old men to send young men to war.”

McIntosh is emotional when he thinks about his time in the Marines and values the character of his friends that didn’t come home.

“Any challenge you face is not going to come anywhere close to what that is,” he said of his experience in Vietnam. “Life has been a piece of cake after that.”

Jo Ann Wooten and Dorothy Dean:

Jo Ann Wooten, 64, from North Vernon, Ind., braved the rain Friday morning with her mother Dorothy Dean, 84, from New Washington, to find the name of a friend she had graduated high school with in 1963.

Wooten’s friend was the first person from her graduating class that had been killed in Vietnam — in 1968 — and she had, until Friday, never had the chance to see his name inscribed on the wall.

“This is the first chance I’d had to visit the wall and I didn’t want to miss it,” Wooten said. “It means the world, I think it’s fabulous...because I may never get a chance to go back up to Washington.”

Wooten holds an extra significance for the soldiers who fought the war in Vietnam — not only because some were her friends and classmates, but because all three of her sons would later serve in the Army.

“I think it’s great they’ve got this to honor the boys,” she said. “It’s a part of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.”

After standing in the rain and looking over the memorial, Wooten and Dean came back in to find the placement of another soldier’s name.

“It’s kind of mixed feelings right now because it’s the first time I had a chance to see it,” Wooten said, as she started to cry. “It’s just rough. It’s a moving experience.”

Like many of the people that have visited and will visit the wall this weekend, the monument stirs up countless emotions.

“In spite of the rain I’m glad we came down,” Wooten said. “It’s really something to behold and I am so thankful they got it down here so we could see it.”

Former Army specialist Lonnie Austin:

Lonnie Austin, 63, also came to the moving wall to find a high school friend who had died in the war.

Originally from New Jersey, Austin now resides in Lanesville, Ind., and has been to see the memorial in Washington, D.C., three or four times and visited the moving wall in French Lick several years back.

“When I heard about this and read about it I thought I’ve got to come here,” he said. “It’s the same as if I was going to see the one in Washington. It’s awesome.”

Though he has seen it several times, Austin said he still takes every chance he can to view the memorial and it always brings up strong feelings.

“I’ve had time to calm down about,” Austin said. “They were doing what they thought they should be doing and I did what I thought I should be doing. I just respect everybody. I have 100 percent respect for all of them.”

On Friday, Austin was looking for the name of the friend who initially tried to get him to join the Army.

Austin said he found out his friend was killed only a few weeks after arriving in Vietnam.

Eventually Austin would find himself in an Army uniform fighting with the Army’s first infantry division, completing three tours in 1966, 1967 and 1968.

He even fought in the infamous Tet Offensive, a major action undertaken in Jan. 1968 during the Vietnamese holiday of Tet and often considered the turning point in the war.

But like most veterans, Austin would rather talk about the names now inscribed on the wall.

“It’s an honor, they gave their lives for our freedom,” he said. “Some gave all and all gave some; that’s the way I feel about it.”