County Honor Roll
"Dedicated toAll VietNam Veterans1981"
This was one of the more enjoyable, even special, monument visits I have made - although it didn't start as one. In fact, within moments of getting off the motorcycle and taking the first shot of the obelisk that is the 1981 VietNam Veterans Memoral I was peeved. The dedication is to ALL VietNam veterans, and the seal of the U.S. Coast Guard is nowhere to be seen.
I am mumbling to myself as I start walking to the opposite corner of the courthouse square, where I had spotted another, and obviously newer, monument as I rolled into the square. Walking toward me were two men in matching golf shirts, with a third quickly coming from behind. I noticed each shirt was embroidered with "County Commissioner." AHA! I can express my discontent.
"Gentlemen," I exclaimed, "can you tell me how many armed services the United States has?" A bit later I figured out that was an unfair question. I was wearing a T-shirt that said, in very large letters, COAST GUARD. Sometimes my political ambush tactics aren't that sharp.
|(l/r) Marlin Weisheit, Bob Johnson, Dan Saylor|
One of the Commissioners spoke up, "There are FIVE, Sir. But we had nothing to do with that monument. If you will come around here with us you will see that we have corrected the error..."
My hosts, Marlin Weisheit, Bob Johnson and Dan Saylor, were pleased to learn of my mission and with obvious pride they explained that this memorial had germinated from an idea floated by Weisheit just last spring. It was designed, funded, constructed and dedicated in just six month. The 2018 observance of Memorial Day will be the first. Dedicated day had been November 11, 2017.
Commissioner Weisheit took the lead in explaining the heartfelt desire of the community to support this effort. "There are 153 men honored on this memorial, and each name represents a significant loss to members of our country," said Weisheit. With that he stepped forward to point out one name from the VietNam section, "He was my big brother, my hero." For a moment all of us were silent as his voice cracked slightly. It has been just under 48 years since his brother was killed in action, but the emotions are all still there. Still a bit raw. And still difficult to face in a circumstance such as this.
"Tell me about him," I said.
"He had a degree in electronics. He got his draft notice and could have gone to the officer ranks, but he chose to be an enlisted man. He was like that. He was called in the summer of '69, went to training and they put him in communications, of course. He arrived in VietNam in '70 - and you know how rough a year that was over there..."
Mr. Weisheit's voice trailed off for a moment, but he continued. "He did something we all know he shouldn't - he volunteered for something."
Corporal Lonnie Weisheit, US Army, was serving with Echo Company, 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division. He arrived in country on the 6th of February, 1970. He was the sterotypical Indiana farm kid. Raised in a community of about 500 people. Lonnie was quiet and supportive of his friends. The new friends he made during recruit training at Fort Knox still remember him and how he helped those around him get through basic training.
He will be remembered not only by the soldiers he served with, but with their familites too - Lonnie was in at least one soldier's wedding party before shipping out. And it's certain that a photo or two of him was enclosed in letters sent home. It's those brief connections that are sometimes difficult to track down and hold by others. Soldiers and sailors meet a personality that briefly sparks the best within them, and then it's gone. The transfer home comes, or the spark goes out upon a battlefield and becomes a bittersweet memory held for decades in the minds of the survivors. "I will always remember him," is the phrase muttered under the breath when his name is seen on a memorial.
Lonnie's spark was extinguished on June 21st, 1970, at Hau Nghia Province, VietNam. He had volunteered for Recon duty to help out the unit. The previous Recon squad had all been killed in action. Lonnie had written home about this decision. "If I am going to have fight in this war I am going to fight it the way I need to."
Lonnie was at the machine gun mount when his jeep struck a land mine. Another soldier died with Lonnie that day, Sgt Stephen Jay W Smith, of Van Wert, County, Ohio, about 300 miles northeast of Lonnie's home town of Lynnville.
There are at least 152 other stories like this represented on the new memorial of Warrick County. Weisheit points out two names from World War II. He relates how difficult it was for a woman he knew, "That was her brother, and that was her husband - they hadn't been married long when he was killed."
Of the three commissioners, only Bob Johnson had served; in the Army, in Germany. We discussed how monuments of this nature stir the memories and emotions of those that visit. They were happy that their effort had lots of hidden stories in the military depictions. The Chaucat machine gun of World War I, the "Buff" that will still be in service eight decades after it was designed and tested. And the "Eternal Flame" that stands in front of the monument.
We are all busy and have other places to be. We shake hands, bid farewell and depart in various directions. All in all, it was a satisfying stop for me. I got the opportunity to tell my story and to learn one or two first hand tidbits about Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice. I will re-visit this monument if I have the chance on another swing through Indiana. Not becaue I have missed anything, but because I too am now personally connected to the story of at least one of the 153 men honored here.