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Closing Ceremony for Vietnam Moving Wall in Oconee County Pays Tribute to Veterans
By Karen Brewer

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

A visitor makes a rubbing of a name on The Moving Wall, a half-sized replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., prior to the start of the closing ceremony the afternoon of Sunday, November 12, 2017.  The Moving Wall was displayed in the shelter at the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative office in Westminster, South Carolina November 9-13.

The closing ceremony for the display of The Moving Wall, a half-sized replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., was held the afternoon of Sunday, November 12, 2017 at the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative office in Westminster, South Carolina.

Master of Ceremonies and Oconee County Veterans Affairs Director Jerry Dyar welcomed the crowd. “Thank you for taking the time this afternoon to come out and be with us for this very special closing ceremony, officially, for our Vietnam Wall presentation here at Blue Ridge Co-op this weekend,” he said. He reminded the audience that the Wall would be there until Monday afternoon, so that they could invite friends or family who had not yet had an opportunity to visit the Wall. “Thank you again for coming out.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Oconee County Veterans Affairs Director Jerry Dyar, Master of Ceremonies for the closing ceremony.

“The Blue Ridge Electric Co-op family has been more than gracious in assisting us with this project this weekend. I don’t know where we would have gone with it, what we would have done with it, had it not been for the kind offer of Mr. Dalton and the staff at Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. And locally, here at the Oconee County office, the staff, Zach Hinton, and folks have been more than gracious in helping us. Whatever has been needed here, they have been ‘Johnny on the spot’ and provided for us in order to make this Wall presentation the reality that it is. It is a perfect location for it, inside this huge structure here, and we’re grateful to those folks for that. Denise McCormick, a representative of the Electric Co-op, is here this afternoon, and we asked her to come and express a few words on behalf of the Blue Ridge Electric Co-op family.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Denise McCormick, of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, speaking at the closing ceremony.

Good afternoon,” McCormick greeted the audience. “And again, thank you for being here. Janice just said to me, ‘It looks like y’all built this equipment facility just for this.’ And it really does look this way. We have just been so honored to host this special memorial to the Vietnam War. I have lived in Oconee County for 40 years, and I am just amazed at how many people have visited. I don’t know of another event in Oconee County, since I’ve lived here, that has been so well attended, at the opening ceremony, all through the weekend. I came down here Saturday. There have been so many people. It’s just apparent that there is a need for this, a need for us to have a way to say thank you to our veterans, and I appreciate all of y’all being here. But, while we have the venue to make this possible, there have been many, many volunteers that have given their time this weekend to help with the parking, help look up names on the wall, all of those things, and I just thank all of those volunteers, because it’s one thing to have the building and somewhere to park, but it’s another thing to have those human elements, and so many people have volunteered. I want to thank Jerry Dyar and Janice Holbrooks, because they persisted in their need to get this memorial here and to make this Veterans Day weekend what it has become. I thank them for letting us be a part of something that is so very special to our county. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Denise,” said Dyar. “We appreciate that. Again, we send our sincerest thanks to the Blue Ridge Co-op for letting us make this a reality.”

Dyar then delivered the invocation. “Father, we do thank you for every gift of life that you have afforded us. We thank you especially, this Veterans Day week, for all of the men and women who ever wore the military uniform of our great nation, for what they have done, for what they have offered to do, for the continued security and safety of this great land we call the United States of America, still the land of the free, still the strongest nation on the face of the earth, still a nation that reveres its freedom more than any other nation in the world. Thank you, again, for all of the great service and sacrifice of our great men and women we call veterans. We thank you for the opportunity to have this very special wall of remembrance here in Oconee County this week, for the very first time in Oconee. And we thank you for that. Thank you for all of the volunteers who helped us make this a reality this week. And we ask that you go with us further through the developing parts of this closing ceremony this afternoon. May everything that we do and say and even think be in accordance with your will and purpose for our life. Forgive us of our sins and shortcomings. Continue to watch over us and care for us. We’ll always be very careful to garner the praise and glory for everything that we do to edify your name. In Jesus’ powerful and strong name we pray, Amen.”

Following the invocation, the names of all 21 men from Oconee County who were killed in action during the Vietnam War were read aloud. “At this time, we’re going to conduct the final roll call of the names of the 21 heroes from Oconee County that appear on the Vietnam Wall and on our War Memorial at the Courthouse up in Walhalla,” said Dyar. “Frank Khun of the Military Officers Association is going to come forward at this time and call the roll of our 21 veteran heroes. As he does that, Harvey Spencer is going to sound the toll of the bell for each of those men.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Frank Khun of the Military Officers Association reads aloud the names of 21 men from Oconee County who died while serving in Vietnam.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Harvey Spencer tolls the bell for each of the men from Oconee County who died in Vietnam.

The following names were read: R. Wayne Beaty, Johnnie E. Butler, Delmar C. Dennis, Austin I. Edwards, Willie Johnson, Billy Lee, Roger E. Merck, Isaiah Mulwee, Jr., David W. Smith, Cecil F. Taylor, Charles B. Watson, Jr., John M. Bischoff, Gerald E. Chastain, Marvin L. Dooley, Thomas E. Holmes, William Jones, Guy H. McCary, Thomas A. Moore, Grady L. Norris, Gerald D. Sullivan, and William F. Thompson.

“Thank you, Frank, thank you, Harvey,” said Dyar. “A remembrance well done.”

A moment of silence was then held in memory of the more than 58,000 killed in Vietnam, and “Taps” was played by Jon Busch, a Vietnam veteran.

Representatives from the 13 veterans organizations within the Oconee County Veterans Council then retrieved the wreaths that had been placed in front of the Wall during the opening ceremony on Friday, November 10
, 2017.

Photographs in the slideshow below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

“The Oconee Veterans Council is made up of these 13 great ex-military service organizations,” said Dyar. “If you are a veteran here, and I know a lot of you are, if you’re not a member of any one of these organizations, I’m certain that you are eligible for membership in one of them. Talk to me or someone in the VA office or someone from any of these organizations about possible membership participation with those respective organizations. They would be honored to have you standing shoulder to shoulder with them, as they represent their organizations’ interest in our community.

“Janice Mattheson Holbrooks, Assistant Veterans Affairs Director, is the lady who is about 100 percent responsible for this project. Give her a hand. About this time in 2014, the Oconee Veterans Council started making preparations to participate with the Department of Defense in a three-year commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. And we looked ahead and said, ‘What can we do our final year, the third year, for the final event for this commemoration?’ And immediately, the thought of the Vietnam Wall coming to Oconee County came to the forefront. Janice started, at that time, contacting the officials in Washington about the prospects of getting the Wall here in Oconee County -- not just getting it here, but getting it here on Veterans Day week, 2017, and you can see it’s here. Thank you, Janice.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Janice Mattheson Holbrooks, Assistant Director of Oconee County Veterans Affairs. delivers closing remarks at the closing ceremony.

“When we did start trying to organize this, to get it here,” said Holbrooks, “I thought it would never happen. How in the world? But, with the help of so many people, it has happened, and it took a lot of people. But I did do that first Google search, and I praise God it took me to the lady and gentleman who brought it here today, Paul and Kim. They have been absolutely phenomenal.”

She explained how the Wall was meant to be displayed outdoors, and Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative offered its facility in Westminster. “Blue Ridge was the perfect place to have it,” she said. “It’s sort of the center of the county, a great location with perfect parking. Thank you so much. You were so kind to let us have it here.”

She discovered that 18 inches needed to be dug into the ground to stablize it. “Well, we can’t dig in cement,” she said. “Dave Burgess was a God-send. He figured out a way to make it happen.”

On Wednesday, November 8, she met the couple, Paul and Kim Chen, who had driven the Wall to South Carolina. “I was nervous,” Holbrooks said. “They had to come and approve the site. I was ‘scared to death’, because, number one, it’s on cement, and, number two, it’s inside this awesome shelter. We came here and looked at it, and Paul said, ‘Y’all did a great job. This is awesome.’

“On Thursday morning, we all gathered. There were a lot of volunteers, and I’m not going to call names, because I know I’ll forget somebody. A lot of volunteers came out in the cold and the rain and helped us assemble this, and it’s beautiful. I did tell Denise, ‘I really appreciate Blue Ridge building this shelter years ago for this Wall.’ It’s perfect. They couldn’t have planned it any better. Thank you so much, Denise and Blue Ridge, for allowing us to have it here, and thank you, Paul and Kim, for being the caretakers of this Wall. When they leave here, they go back to Michigan for the winter. I think three more names are going to be added to the Wall during the winter. When a name is added to the Wall in Washington, it’s added to this Wall. And this Wall is 33 years old. It’s the original duplicate of the Vietnam Wall in D.C. There are others, but this is the original one. The panels have been replaced, as they needed to be replaced, but this is oldest traveling Wall. This is The Moving Wall, and we’re so blessed to have it.

“Just a little bit of information on this: there are 58,315 names on this Wall. That’s 58,315 families that have been affected. Those friends have been affected. That’s my generation. A lot of y’all out there, I can see, are in my generation, too. And, if you’re not my generation, you probably know somebody that knows somebody that’s on this Wall. There are 21 names on it from Oconee County that gave the ultimate sacrifice. The youngest person on this Wall is 15 years old. He lied about his age, of course, was admitted in, they found out he lied, they kicked him out, he lied again, and went back in. Now, his name is on the Wall. The oldest one is 62. There are 22 sixteen year olds on this Wall. My grandchildren are 17 and 21. Sixteen year olds: 22 of them are on this wall. Can you imagine how those mamas felt? Those Daddies? There are eight women. There are 33 sets of brothers. There are three sets of fathers and sons. Can you imagine being in that mama’s position, when her husband and her son (died)? Those people came up to her door to tell her twice she had lost a loved one in Vietnam. I can only imagine. And there are so many others. There are four male nurses on here. They were all killed in the same plane crash on November 30, 1967. There are a lot of different people’s names on this wall.

“We’ve been so blessed to have so many young people come to see this since it’s been here. It technically opened Thursday. We had a soft opening about 1:00. People started coming in before we finished setting it up. It’s been a steady stream of people. I would venture to say there have been thousands of people come through here to look at this wall. And I can’t thank y’all enough. It has made every tear I’ve shed, and every worry I’ve worried, and every night I’ve not slept well, worth it, to see the people that have been exposed to this wall. It’s been my pleasure, it’s been my honor, and I am so blessed to have been a part of this. It has been a labor of love.

“The Veterans Council came together with us. They have just been awesome. I have the best job on the planet. The Lord has blessed me to work with the best veterans in the world. I am just so blessed with the veterans and the families that I have. Thank y’all so much for allowing me to be a part of your life.

“Spend as much time as you want, viewing this Wall. We’ll be here. And we’ll be here tomorrow till 3:00. At 3:00, we will break it down and let Paul and Kim go on home for the winter, so that they can start refurbishing it and doing what they need to do to get back on the road next April.

“I am so thankful. And County Council, thank you so much for the support that y’all have given us. It has been tremendous. Thomas, your office has been incredible. There have been so many people that have helped so much. Thank y’all so much. God bless y’all. Have safe travels, and please take time to look at this Wall.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Oconee County Veterans Affairs Director Jerry Dyar greets State Senator Thomas Alexander.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

South Carolina State Senator Thomas Alexander, of Oconee County, speaks at the closing ceremony for the Moving Wall display at the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative office in Westminster in Oconee County. The Moving Wall is funded through donations and travels to different sites across the country from April through November each year.

Dyar then recognized all of the veterans in attendance. “This is Veterans Day week,” he said. “We want to acknowledge all of you folks who have worn the military uniform of our great nation. If you served in the military, regular military, Reserve, National Guard, let’s see a show of hands at this time. Give them a hand. Give them a hand.”

Dyar then recognized State Senator Thomas Alexander from Oconee County, who had been out of town for the opening ceremony on Friday, but who was present for the closing ceremony. “Thomas Alexander and Bill Whitmire and Bill Sandifer are our Oconee County Legislative Delegation and great supporters of our veterans,” said Dyar.

“I was here earlier today, looking at this Wall, and it is so moving and so touching,” said Alexander. “I want to thank Janice and Jerry and all of the Council, the Veterans Council, everybody, all of the volunteers. We just can’t say enough. Look at all of those names. Think about each and every one and the lives that they touched. The freedom that we enjoy today is because of their sacrifice and those veterans that we recognize and honor this Veterans Day weekend. It’s a wonderful place, here in Oconee County, to live. To know that the community has come out and supported this and paid their respect, it’s very special. I’m proud to share this event with all of y’all. May God continue to bless each one of us, and may God continue to bless our state and our country and our defenders of freedom at home and abroad. Thank you very much.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Vietnam veteran Tom Carroll gives the benediction for the closing ceremony

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Visitors look at names of those killed in Vietnam on the Moving Wall.

Holbrooks then mentioned that the Moving Wall is funded through donations from the public. “The Wall is totally supported by donations,” she said. “There are donation boxes here. The government doesn’t fund it in any way. It’s all by donations.”

“There is no government entity, there’s no corporate entity that supports the Wall,” said Paul Chen. “It belongs to us.”

Dyar recognized Westminster Mayor Brian Ramey, who was in attendance for the ceremony, and then he asked Vietnam veteran Tom Carroll to deliver the benediction. “Following that,” Dyar told the audience, “you are welcome to stay and visit, make etchings of names on the Wall, and make yourself at home until 5:00 this afternoon.” He added that the Wall would be available for viewing on Monday beginning at 10:00 a.m. until mid-afternoon.

“We pause at the close of this special occasion,” prayed Carroll. “We acknowledge your sovereignty over our lives and our country. We remember before you our comrades now departed this life. We honor them for their loyalty to God and country, for their good deeds and for their friendship. May they rest at peace. And may the good works you have begun in them be brought to perfection, that our nation may be strong and our people secure and happy. Give to us a safe journey to our homes. Amen.”

Publisher's Note: Below are links to The Christian View magazine's two additional articles on The Moving Wall's visit to Oconee County.

Click here to read the in-depth article: The Moving Wall Moves Visitors, Some to Reflection, Some to Tears.

Click here to read the in-depth article on the opening ceremony.