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Opening Ceremony for the Vietnam Moving Wall Draws a Large Crowd in Oconee County
By Karen Brewer

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Master of Ceremonies and Oconee County Veterans Affairs Director Jerry Dyar welcomes the crowd to the opening ceremony.

Oconee County Veterans Affairs Director Jerry Dyar, serving as Master of Ceremonies, welcomed a large crowd to the opening ceremony the morning of Friday, November 10, 2017. “I want to welcome you folks here. I know you don’t need a welcome. This is your time. You’re here for a special purpose. I dare say that about everybody in this audience out here knew someone, or your know a family member of someone, whose name is on the Wall.  So, this is your time, and this is your place, and we’re honored that you have allowed us to be among you this morning, as we pay special tribute to the memory of the men whose names are on this Wall behind us. And we are especially here today to honor the memory of our great veterans from Oconee County, 21 of them, whose names are inscribed on this memorial.

“There are a whole lot more folks and organizations to thank for helping us accomplish what we’ve done here today than I could stand here and recite all day. And, if I started trying to do it, I know I’m going to leave somebody out, and I don’t want to do that, but you know who you are if you helped. But there are two people I want to especially recognize this morning, who have put in a lot more than their requested share of time, to help bring this about this morning. Number one is my wonderful Assistant Director in the VA Office, Janice Mattheson Holbrooks, who is back by the VA Office wreath. One of the primary questions I have been asked over the past few weeks is, ‘How did you guys arrange to get this Wall tribute here in Oconee County on Veterans Day week?’ That is attributable to Janice. Back in 2014, when we started planning the three-year commemorative series of events, to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the first thing we decided we were going to try do, as a grand finale for our three-year commemoration, was to have the Vietnam Moving Wall on site here in Oconee County for our final tribute. And then, we decided, well, if we’re going to do that, let’s just go ahead and reach for the stars and see if we can get it here on Veterans Day week. Janice started to work immediately for that end, and you see the results of her efforts here before you this morning. And Janice, thank you, again, for all of the hard work you put in this project. We had to make this venue ready and acceptable for the Vietnam Wall display. And Dave Burgess is the Vietnam Seabee veteran who got together a crew of other veterans from our service organizations around the county and put the foundation down for the wall panels to be placed on. Thank you, Dave Burgess.

“We certainly could not have done this today -- not here -- if it weren’t for the cooperation and tremendous spirit of all of the folks involved with the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, and we want to thank them for opening their arms up and making their beautiful site here available for this location. It’s in the geographic center of Oconee County. We thank the folks at Blue Ridge Electric. We have Amy Childress with us this morning, representing the Board of Directors and the employees, the staff members. Amy Childress is going to come forward and express a word of greeting on behalf of the Blue Ridge Electric Co-op family to all of you here this morning.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Amy Childress of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative greets the crowd at the opening ceremony.

“Thank you,” said Childress. “Good morning. On behalf of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, it’s my privilege to welcome you here. We are delighted to host this moving memorial and have eagerly anticipated the arrival of it. We want to thank the volunteers and the many people that made this possible, and, to those who will be visiting over the weekend, we certainly welcome you, as well. To the veterans here today, for your service, your sacrifice, and your dedication, thank you for making this the greatest nation on earth. Again, welcome, and thank you for being here.”

Photographs of the Walhalla High School JRTOC in the slideshow below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

“Thank you so much, Amy,” said Dyar. “We appreciate that. We have about 7,500 veterans in Oconee County. A large majority of them belong to one or more of 13 ex-service organizations here in Oconee County. These service organizations make up the body of the Oconee County Veterans Council. The Oconee County Veterans Council is an umbrella organization that incorporates the membership of all 13 of our service organizations into one umbrella organization that’s sole focus is to represent the goodness and the best interest of our great veterans here in Oconee County, whenever and however and wherever it’s called on to do so. With that in mind, we have 13 wreaths that have been placed in front of the wall here this morning, and, at this time, as I call the names of the respective organizations, their member is going to set the wreath representing their organization.”

Wreaths were then placed by representatives from Seneca American Legion Post 120, Westminster American Legion Post 107, Walhalla American Legion Post 124, the Disabled American Veterans, the Combat Infantry Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Walhalla Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, the Fleet Reserve Branch 15, the Veterans Affairs Office, the Marine Corps League Detachment 1131, the Patriots Hall Museum Association, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1017, and the Military Officers Association.

“I’d like for you to give all of these organizations a round of applause for what they mean to Oconee County,” said Dyar. “These guys and ladies see to it that the veterans in Oconee County are held in high esteem, not necessarily because it has to be done but because they enjoy doing that.

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

“Some very special guests are here this morning,” he said, as he introduced American Pride, a Statler Brothers tribute band. “A very patriotic group, the Statler Brothers are. And these gentlemen who make up the American Pride band, you’re going to hear them in just a minute, and, if you have an opportunity tonight, I hope you will come out to the Walhalla Civic Auditorium. They’re going to be in a special concert. All veterans will be admitted free, and we can thank the Civic Auditorium Committee for making that happen. I had the pleasure to see these fellows in concert last year around Veterans Day weekend, and they are, as advertised, a true tribute to what the Statler Brothers stand for in the world of music and the world of patriotism. The American Pride band is going to come forward and sing for us the national anthem. Would you please stand.”

The four members of American Pride then sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

American Pride, a Statler Brothers tribute band, sings the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

                    Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine                                                                         

                            Combat Infantry Association State Commander Rick Falardeau

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

The Walhalla High School JROTC

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

The Walhalla High School JROTC

Dyar then introduced Vietnam veteran Truman Holbrooks, from American Legion Post 107, who gave the invocation. “God, we thank you for the beautiful day you’ve sent our way today to take time out to honor and remember these names on these walls of these men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country that we enjoy our freedoms today,” said Holbrooks. “We pray, too, God, that you will continue to be with their families. May you uplift them as they continue to adjust with the loss that they’ve had, with their loved one in sacrificing. We also thank you for our armed forces who are serving today, especially for their willingness to volunteer, even to the point of sacrificing for our country. We pray that you continue to be with their families. Would you uplift them, strengthen them as they serve. May they be able to join back together again with their loved ones. We thank you for our country and what it means to us. We pray for our nation’s leaders. We pray that you would give them the insight and the wisdom that they need in making decisions that impact so many people’s lives. We thank you for our county and the planning that has gone into the celebration today. And we pray that the things that we do will be uplifting to the families that are represented in our county and throughout our great land. We pray, too, God, that you will continue to be with our men that are serving in dangerous areas. May you uplift them and guide them and give them the strength that they need, and may you have them to be as safe as possible. And we pray, too, as we continue to observe this honor that we’re doing for our brave men that have sacrificed so much. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Dyar then asked the audience to stand and introduced Vietnam veteran Del Williams, who led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Vietnam veteran Truman Holbrooks gives the invocation.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Vietnam veteran Del Williams leads in the Pledge of Allegiance.

At this time, we’d like to call your attention to the ROTC unit located to my left, to your right,” said Dyar. “They have a special ceremony that we always like to include in events of this nature. This is a tribute to the men and women who served, unfortunately, in prisoner of war camps. Many of them are still recorded as missing in action. This is a tribute to the memory of those men and women.”

Members of the Walhalla High School JROTC then performed the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action ceremony.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please direct your attention to the center of our gathering. This table is set for our prisoners of war and those missing in action from all wars. They are not with us today. Their chairs are empty but saved for their awaited return. Let us remember their absence.

“The tablecloth. It is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms. Remember.

“Set for six. The empty places represent our men and women missing from each of the five services, Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard, and civilian.  This honor ceremony symbolizes that they are with us here in spirit. Remember.

“The table. It is set small, symbolizing the frailty of a prisoner alone against his oppressors.

“A slice of lemon. It is set on the plate to remind us of their bitter fate if we do not bring them home.

“There is salt, symbolic of their family’s tears as they wait for their return. Remember.

“The American flag. It reminds us that many may never return home and have paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom. Remember.

“The faded picture. It is set on the table as a reminder that they will be longed for greatly and will always be remembered.

“The Bible. It represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded ‘one nation under God.’ Remember.

“The red rose. Displayed in a vase to remind us of each life that is missing and their loved ones and friends who remained hopeful when circumstances seemed hopeless.

“The red ribbon. It is tied on the vase, reminiscent of our unyielding determination to demand a proper account for our missing.

“The yellow ribbon. It represents the yellow ribbon worn by thousands awaiting their return. Remember.

“The glass. It is inverted. They cannot toast with us tonight.

“The candle. Its reminiscent light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home away from their captors to open arms of a grateful nation.

“The black ribbon. It is on the candle to remind us of those who will not be coming home. Remember.

“The chair. It is empty. They cannot be with us today. Remember.

“To those who served so honorably, who are lost or as of yet unaccounted for, to our comrades who gave their tomorrows for our todays, please let them never be forgotten.”

Dyar then addressed Colonel Kevin Mangan, from the Walhalla High School Army JROTC department. “Colonel Mangan, you and members of your ROTC organization, thank you for being a special part of our ceremony this morning.”

Photographs in the slideshow below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine
Dyar then asked for everyone to be seated. “At this time, we want to do something very important to all of us. We are going to remember the individual names of our 21 heroes from Oconee County who died in Vietnam. Don Bickers and Harvey Spencer are going to assist us in this particular phase of our ceremony. Mr. Bickers is going to come forward at this time and read the names of our 21 heroes from Oconee County who lost their lives in Vietnam. After each name is read, Harvey Spencer, retired Navy Master Chief, will sound a toll of the bell one time for that name.”

The following names, of those from Oconee County killed in action, 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.

Dyar then read a quote from scripture, John 15:13, which says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “These 21 great men did that,” he said. “At this time, we would like to recognize any family members of any of these 21 men whose names have just been read. If you are here, if you are a family member, please just slip up your hand at this time. What a representation. Thank you.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Don Bickers reads the names of 21 men from Oconee County who were killed in action in Vietnam.

In introducing the next song by American Pride, Dyar relayed the story of how the song “More Than a Name on a Wall” was written by former Statler Brothers member Jimmy Fortune. “Jimmy Fortune is a renown writer of songs and singer of songs,” he said. “Sometime around 1989, Jimmy had the pleasure to visit the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and he went home, thinking to himself that there’s a song somewhere here. And Jimmy wrote the song, “More Than a Name on a Wall.” In 1989, that song was released by The Statler Brothers. The American Pride band is going to recreate, at this time, Jimmy Fortune’s “More Than a Name on a Wall.””

“It is with great pleasure that this group stands before you,” said Mike Whetsel of American Pride. “You can’t help but notice the red, white, and blue that we occupy in these suits this morning, and we make no apologies for these colors. We’re very proud of these colors. My Dad served. He was at Fort Bragg, not far from where we stand. I have uncles and aunts that were in service. Fortunately, all of my family is still with me. My Dad has passed. It had nothing to do with the war. I’m very proud of my heritage. I’m very proud of my country, proud of these colors. I’m proud that we were asked to be here today to honor not only the 21 names that were mentioned, but the tens of thousands of names that are behind me on this wall. I stand here today, honoring those 21 names and the tens of thousands of names that are behind me. I want you to listen to these words. And let these words enter deep into your heart the message of the loss of families, the loss of loved ones, the loss of children who never knew their Dad or their Mom. So many of you standing here before me today knew a lot of these names. Some of those names of the ones who did come home, they may have come home not quite like you remember them. They may be missing limbs. They may not remember you. But you listen to these words, and let these words be our honor to them.”

The group then sang the song, “More Than a Name on a Wall.”

“Today, we honor God and country, and we give them thanks,” said Whetsel.

“Thank you very much, fellas,” said Dyar. “You have added immeasurably to our ceremony this morning, and we thank you for being here.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

American Pride, a Statler Brothers tribute band, sings "More Than a Name on a Wall."

“At this time, for those of you who can do it, please stand, and we are going to offer a moment of silence as we pay our final tribute to the men whose names are on the wall. Silence, please.”

Following a moment of silence in memory of those killed in action, “Taps” was played by Vietnam veteran Jon Busch.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Commander Rick Falardeau at the wreath of the Combat Infantry Association.

“Thank you,” said Dyar. “You may be seated again, one final time. Senator Lindsey Graham is here this morning to share a personal thought to the families, to the friends, to the citizens of Oconee County and the state of South Carolina that he represents in Washington, at this very special occasion. Senator Graham.”

“Thank you all very much,” said Graham. “To the families, I know it still hurts. And you may ask yourselves, ‘Why did it happen? What did they die for?’ They died in the service of their country. They were asked to do a job. They did it. And we’re here today to honor them and honor you.”

He then noted that the day was the 242nd anniversary of the United States Marine Corps, and he asked if there were any Marine veterans in the audience.

“Jerry and Janice,” he said to Dyar and Holbrooks, “you need to run the government, because you know how to put on a program. I can only imagine how hard it was to get this Wall here on this day. To everybody who put on the program, you honored those who served.

“George Washington said, ‘The best way to keep America safe is to honor the veteran, because the way you treat the veteran will determine whether your young people will want to serve under the flag of this nation.’ So, every time we treat our veteran well, it’s a signal to these young men and women that, if you follow in their footsteps, we will treat you well. And, Jerry, you treat our veterans well. You and Janice do a good job.

“To those who are serving today, President Trump has promised one thing. That he’s going to rebuild the military, give them the equipment, the training, and the ability to win a war we can’t afford to lose. I want to tell you one thing before I turn it over to Jeff. We’ve got the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915. Fifty fighter squadrons have been grounded in the Air Force because of budget cuts, and the Marine Corps is the smallest it’s been since Vietnam. That is insane, and we’re going to fix that. God bless you.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

United States Senator Lindsey Graham speaking at the opening ceremony.

“Thank you, Senator Graham,” said Dyar. “We appreciate you being here this morning. We also are happy to have with us our representative in Congress, Third District Congressman Jeff Duncan.”

“I want to echo the words of Senator Graham,” said Duncan. “Thanks to Jerry and Janice for all they do for our veterans here in Oconee County and for working to bring this Wall for us to remember those who have fallen in the Vietnam War.

“Veterans Day is a celebration of those who have served and those who are continuing to serve to this day, standing watch through the night, guarding our Constitutional liberties and our lives. Let me say thank you to all that have served on behalf of the 770,000 people that I represent in the Third Congressional District of South Carolina.

“Let me also say happy birthday to the Marine Corps. Semper Fi. Always faithful. Thank you, Marines, especially today, on your birthday.

“Again, to echo the words of Senator Graham, we’re going to work to rebuild the nation’s military, because the threats are real around the globe. You heard the statistics he threw out. Those aren’t made up. It’s time to return America to the great superpower that the world needs us to be. Let me reemphasize that: that the world needs us to be, and that we can be and that we are.

“And so, as we go into tomorrow’s celebration of Veterans Day, let me just say, thank you so much, and may God continue to bless you and the United States of America. Thank you so much.”

“Thank you, Congressman,” said Dyar. “Thanks again, Senator Graham and Congressman Jeff Duncan, for being a part of our ceremony this morning.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

United States Representative Jeff Duncan speaking at the opening ceremony.

“This is Veterans Day weekend,” said Dyar. “Let’s recognize our great veterans here in Oconee County who are in attendance today. If you’ve worn the military uniform of our great nation, active duty, National Guard, Reserve forces, please stand if you can, raise your hand. We’re going to need to see your hand because a lot of you are standing already.”

Noting the fact that so many veterans were in the audience, as were family members of veterans, Dyar said, “We know we have a great ceremony this morning with all of these veterans. I knew there was some reason this crowd was so great this morning, besides these wonderful family members, all these terrific veterans here in Oconee, part of 7,500 of them.

“I see our friend Bill Whitmire in the audience here, representing the upper area of Oconee County in the House of Representatives in Columbia. Representative Sandifer is out of town, and I know Senator Alexander is out of town. Our illustrious Sheriff, Mike Crenshaw, who means so much to our veteran community (is here).

“One of our special veterans in Oconee County is not with us today. Those of you who have attended Memorial Day ceremonies, Veterans Day events, and things of that nature around Oconee County, for years and years, you’ve seen the smiling, proud face of the Honorable Alex McCauley, former State Senator, 10th Circuit Judicial Court Judge, and combat medic veteran from Vietnam. He’s a terrific ambassador for Oconee County, and he wanted me to express his regrets for not being able to be here, but he did pen a brief letter. ‘Jerry, I regret that I am unable to accept the distinct honor of speaking at the presentation of the Vietnam Memorial Wall November 10, 2017. As I explained to Janice, I have a long-standing commitment to attend an out-of-state conference November 9 through 12. If it would be appropriate, I would appreciate you expressing, on behalf of all of us, our sincere gratitude to the Oconee County Veterans Council for bringing the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall to our area this Veterans Day week. Like so many other Vietnam veterans and their family and friends, I have not been able to visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, and this would have been the best opportunity for me to find and honor the names of those with whom I served or knew who gave their all. As was recently acknowledged by another, they represent the best one percent our nation had to offer, and they will not be forgotten but will continue to be honored for their service to us all. Thank you. Alex McCauley.’

“Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Judge McCauley. Thank you, veteran McCauley.”

Dyar then noted sponsors who helped finance the visit of the Moving Wall: Action Septic Tank and Portable, ATAX Committee of Oconee County, Davenport Funeral Home, Sandifer Funeral Home, Oconee County government, the Oconee County Veterans Council, and Oconee County Veterans Affairs Office.

“We want to thank you for being here,” Dyar told the audience. “Take your time now and visit the Wall, a large reason why you came here today. Make yourself at home. Stay as long as you like. Thank you again for being here. God bless all of you and safe travels. We have directories on the tables for those of you looking for special names. The directory books are on the tables to help you find their names on the wall. So, take advantage of that assistance, if you will. Thank you again for coming. God bless you.”

             Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

             Vietnam veteran Tom Carroll, just prior to giving the benediction.

The opening ceremony was closed with a benediction from Vietnam veteran Tom Carroll, from the Oconee County Veterans Council. “Gracious God, grant that we may appreciate and treasure the freedom that is our gift and heritage and that we may never forget the great price at which it was purchased for us all. We remember this day before you all who served in the Armed Forces of our nation. Protect and defend them in the day of battle. And in the time of peace, grant that they may serve with honor and dignity both to your great glory and to the credit of this nation. We ask also that you will watch over the veterans of this land. Inspire them to serve you, this country, at every new and creative way. Comfort our ill and wounded comrades who languish in hospitals or homes. Lighten their burdens, relieve their suffering and pain, and restore to them the blessing of health again. We also pray for those who have given their lives in the service of our country. And for those, our fellow veterans, who have served this nation, both in time of battle and in time of peace, may light perpetual shine upon them. May the good work which you have begun in them be brought to perfection, that this land may prosper, and that there may be lasting peace throughout our world. All this, we ask you, Almighty Father, in your holy name. Amen.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Chayse McGaha of the Walhalla High School JROTC

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Ethan McMahan and Chase Kuhlman of the Walhalla High School JROTC

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Ethan McMahan and Chase Kuhlman of the Walhalla High School JROTC with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who spoke at the opening ceremony for the Vietnam Moving Wall's visit to Oconee County.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Paul Chen, who drives the Moving Wall across the country, and Rick Falardeau, State Commander of Combat Infantry Association.

Photographs above by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Photographs above by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Following the opening ceremony, Vietnam veteran Ernie Payne and his wife, Barbara, greet friend Betty Rowland, of Salem, who found the name of her brother, Fred W. Smith, on the Wall.

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 on the closing ceremony.

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