By Libby Casey
The Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D-C bears the names of more than 58-thousand men and women killed in service. But there are hundreds of veterans of that conflict who have died in the decades since the war who are not listed on the wall. The group the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund wants to pay tribute to them, too, so every year it inducts men and women into their honor roll.
Today in Washington, D-C, 97 Americans were remembered in an “In Memory” ceremony including one Alaskan.
The names of those not on the Wall, were read by loved ones — those men and women who have died in recent years – the families say as a delayed result of their service in a far off land, so many decades ago.
They were people the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund says just because they didn’t die in combat doesn’t mean the war left them unscathed.
The master of ceremonies at Monday’s tribute, Richard Schneider, runs the Non Commissioned Officers Association of the U-S-A.
To the families who loved and tended and took care of them, they knew from day one when their loved ones came back, they were different. And that difference was a result of war. And that difference was something that we as the Vietnam Veteran community have highlighted over and over again.
Schneider says the ceremony was equally for the living – the loved ones of veterans who welcomed them home with open arms, through tough times and vivid nightmares of Vietnam.
They did something that this nation could not do over the past 40 years, and that was to recognize and to properly take care of the Vietnam Veterans who were wounded, who carried the remnants of Agent Orange, who had the insidious diseases. And they fought with their loved ones for health care, they fought for recognition of the many illnesses that have since been defined as presumptive of the Vietnam Era.
The veterans’ families gathered on the Mall say their loved-ones were affected by chemicals like Agent Orange. Gayle and Marcus Tremmel of Ohio lost husband and father, Michael Tremmel two years ago. He was a two-time Vietnam Veteran in the U-S Navy.
He did have a disability from the Navy for Post Traumatic Stress. But I think the Agent Orange, he got diabetes and kidney disease and we’re sure that was probably caused from that. Because no one else in his family ever had the diabetes. There was nothing ever official as far as Agent Orange discovered. But he had medial problems not relevant in our family.
Michael Tremmel and the other 96 Veterans honored had placards bearing their names and photos placed before the Wall.
The Tremmels also left a spread of other photos, showing Michael as an 18 year old boot camp graduate, with his family or enjoying the sea – his wife Gayle says he was a Navy man through and through. Gayle and son Marcus lingered by his photos, propped up against the Wall.
I hate to walk away, like I’m leaving him here again. But he would be proud. I’m sure. He is proud that we brought him here today.
It’s a very powerful feeling being here for this, definitely. But we have that sense of pride underneath that makes it feel good, you know?
One of the placards honored Alaskan Charles Hamilton Shurtleff of Fairbanks. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was the only member of Congress to speak at the ceremony. She called it a reminder to appreciate and thank veterans every day.
So standing here today in this spot, reminds me, we’re just so overcome, so overcome by feelings of respect, of dignity to those who served, and truly the solemnity of it all.
Murkowski introduced Eagle River retired Staff Sergeant Bob Lupo. He’s the chaplain for the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club in Alaska – and the author of a poem called “Emotions,” which he was asked to read at Monday’s ceremony.
Will stand in the rain and weep with no shame
To pay homage to them, those women and men
They answered the call, “Freedom for all!”
And the price of freedom? It’s written on the wall.
Lupo says the names shared deserve recognition and honor.
They’re the unsung heroes. The people who fit criteria to get on wall, God bless ’em. But there are a lot of people that served and lead lives that were truly devastating for both themselves and their families, for years after Vietnam. And they need to be remembered.
Lupo plans to start an Alaskan version of the In Memory event next year. He’s been working with local groups to get things off the ground.
Alaska is the state with the most veterans per capita. And so it would be the first place it should be besides the wall.
As families said their goodbyes and left the Wall, the placards bearing their loved-ones names stayed behind. The Park Service planned to leave them there until nightfall when they would collect them to store in their archived collection.