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Thousands drawn to wall in Elma

Steven Friederich | The Vidette David Brandt, 66, of Montesano kneels down with his wife Teresa at the replica Vietnam Wall in Elma. Brandt was looking for the name of classmate David I. Harner and then went on to find another friend on the wall, Johnny Chambers, who also died during the Vietnam War.
Steven Friederich | The Vidette David Brandt, 66, of Montesano kneels down with his wife Teresa at the replica Vietnam Wall in Elma. Brandt was looking for the name of classmate David I. Harner and then went on to find another friend on the wall, Johnny Chambers, who also died during the Vietnam War.
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Steve Boerner of North River salutes in front of the replica Vietnam Wall at the fairgrounds in Elma. Boerner, a Vietnam veteran, visited the traveling exhibit with his wife Alice.
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Steve Boerner of North River salutes in front of the replica Vietnam Wall at the fairgrounds in Elma. Boerner, a Vietnam veteran, visited the traveling exhibit with his wife Alice.
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Members of Rolling Thunder, made up mainly of veterans, and members of the local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars make up the honor guard standing in wait in front of the replica Vietnam Wall memorial at the Elma fairgrounds during opening ceremonies on July 4.
Steven Friederich | The Vidette Members of Rolling Thunder, made up mainly of veterans, and members of the local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars make up the honor guard standing in wait in front of the replica Vietnam Wall memorial at the Elma fairgrounds during opening ceremonies on July 4.
Scot Pearson | The Vidette Visitors to the wall search for names of family and friends, possibly members that they served with. An emotional journey for many who stopped to see the replica.
Scot Pearson | The Vidette Visitors to the wall search for names of family and friends, possibly members that they served with. An emotional journey for many who stopped to see the replica.
Members of Rolling Thunder pose for a picture next to the replica Vietnam Wall.
Members of Rolling Thunder pose for a picture next to the replica Vietnam Wall.

They came to touch the wall and, for many, the wall touched their hearts.

An 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Wall was at the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds in Elma from July 4 to July 7 and was escorted the day before by dozens of veterans and their friends and family on motorcycles. The American Veterans Traveling Tribute was sponsored by the Rolling Thunder chapter in Elma and featured many different speakers focusing not just on veterans, both living and gone, but there was also a special tribute to first responders, which took on significant meaning in the aftermath of the deadly fires in Arizona that claimed 19 firemen.

Standing in front of the wall on Friday, veterans David Brandt and Jim Harp, both of Montesano, commiserated about friends who died in Vietnam.

Harp had lost a friend named Roger Saux, a member of the Quinault nation. The Quinault Indian Nation later named its medical center in Saux’s honor. Brandt had come to find the name of his classmate David Harner.

“I served in 1965 and ended up in Hawaii,” Brandt said. “I never did make it to Vietnam, but I always figured I’d link up with Harner, but he died.”

“I spent two years in Germany and never made it over, either,” Harp replied. “But I know I lost friends there.”

Both Brandt and Harp had also come to see the name of Johnny A. Chambers on the wall. Chambers, who died in Vietnam, was a consistent point for visitors to the wall. At one point, someone placed a yellow rose over a markings for Chambers’ name so that other visitors could find the spot easier.

Anne Chambers who grew up in Montesano but now lives in Elma, has visited the traveling wall at least three times, and is the cousin to Chambers. She says for his name, who she says felt more like a brother.

“I took a rubbing (of his name) when the wall was in Raymond, whenever I can visit, I do,” she said.

Combes reflects the memories that seeing Chambers name on the wall, brings back to her.

Chambers, who is at the bottom of wall 13E, is placed for those who were lost in action between Dec. 1, 1966 and Jan. 9, 1967.

“When he was drafted, he didn’t have to go because he was the last of the family name. But he did not use that as an excuse to serve his country.”

Members of Anne’s family have served in the military since the civil war, “My great-great-grandfather was a member of the Confederate States of America.”

Dick and Anne Marie Capps were not aware the traveling wall was in town when they came to visit the area.

“She has seen the wall in Washington D.C.,” said Dick about his wife.

Anne Marie, who was getting a little choked up when discussing her search for her older brother’s best friend, Kenneth J. LeCastre who served in the Army from 1966-67.

“It’s great that they travel around the country,” said Dick, “its very healing. I was there (Vietnam), and saw a lot of people die. I feel very lucky today that I came back. I was very lucky then.”

Dennis Brumbaugh of Montesano grew up in the Everett area and used the locator service to find classmate David W. Smith on the wall. The locator specialist told Brumbaugh that there were 665 Smiths on the wall — but they found the right one for Brumbaugh to touch his finger to on the wall. Smith died in 1970 and was a classmate of Brumbaugh’s from Everett High School.

North River resident Steve Boerner, a Vietnam veteran, stood at salute during opening ceremonies for the wall on July 4. With wife Alice, Boerner said he came to the wall to find lost friends.

“I was there and I lost my best friend,” Boerner said. “Being here is a deep seeded emotional for me. I am so grateful for the wall being here.”

The tribute was more than just about Vietnam veterans. There was also information about veterans lost in Korea, World War II and other combat situations, including the global war on terror.

Casandra Carriker was a featured speaker during opening ceremonies. She lost her brother Casey, a Hoquiam graduate, in 2007 in Iraq. She notes that Carriker was supposed to have been home, but then they extended his stay another three months.

She wears his dog tag around her neck.

“I had a girl ask me where I bought it,” she says. “And, I had to tell her, ‘You can’t buy these. You don’t even want to have one if you can help it.’”

She also got a tattoo on her back of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, one of her brother’s favorite cartoon characters.

Casandra noted that Casey loved tree houses and always wanted to build one. Her father is now building a tree house to place his ashes in.

“One time we were building a tree house, and he never let me live this down, I was supposed to put the nails in and he was holding up the board and my dad went inside a minute and my older brothers were supposed to watch us,” Casandra said. “I was 8 and Casey had just turned 7. My brothers weren’t paying attention to how Casey was holding the board and he was holding it up with his head. I missed the tree and I nailed the board into his head so he had this scar on t he back of his head about the size of a half dollar. He always told that story to everyone because he had to shave his head when he got in the Army.”

On Saturday, the first responders tribute featured Kirsten Walshe, an Elma firefighter, who rang the bell for other firefighters, who have died. Tyler Walshe, a machine gunner, died in 2009 when a roadside bomb exploded. Although he was based out of Fort Lewis, his home town was Shasta, Calif. and the death didn’t make much news on the Harbor.

Kirsten, an Elma High School graduate, said she moved back home to take a job with the Elma Fire Department. She recently graduated from EMT school in January.

“The experience has been amazing,” Walshe said. “I am so privileged to participate in the bell ringing ceremony and there was just so much honor and respect shown to me all during this event.”

Retired firefighter and Elma Councilman Jim Taylor said that Walshe was the perfect person to end the tribute to first responders.

Deadra Garrigus, who lost her son Mickel to combat in Iraq in 2007, was among those who were also honored. She also made a special stop to the Field of Honor, outside of Elma, where 400 flags were set up, each on 8-foot-tall poles. There was one flag dedicated to her son.

“This experience has just been so moving,” Garrigus said. “To have them remember Mickel was amazing.”

Other tributes were also set up for Tim Davis of Montesano, who died on Feb. 20, 2009; and Aaron Fairbairn of Aberdeen, who died on July 4, 2009, as well as several others who had died. One woman approached Fairbairn’s picture on a dog tag on the anniversary of his death at the tribute and just started crying.

“I didn’t know him,” she said. “But seeing his face, knowing this is the anniversary of his death and yet the birthday of our nation, how can you not cry?”

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