Published August 22, 2019
By ALLISON HASTINGS
NORTH READING — This past week, local residents had the privilege of viewing a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Ipswich River Park in North Reading.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a non-profit organization, designed the three-quarter scale replica of The Wall and a mobile Education Center, which travels to 34 communities throughout the United States each year.
Last Thursday, a special POW/MIA ceremony was held to commemorate those who died in combat and honor the veterans still with us today. Master of Ceremonies and North Reading’s own Veterans’ Director, Susan Magner, opened the program by welcoming audience members and acknowledging the hundreds of volunteers who helped bring this exhibit into the community.
Magner, along with many of the speakers, emphasized the importance of recognizing the names written on The Wall, along with the veterans who survived the trenches of Vietnam. Unlike other global conflicts, American soldiers returning from this war often did not receive hugs or words of praise, but rather were given the cold shoulder for their involvement. The purpose of Thursday’s ceremony was to bring honor upon those who have served our country while remembering the sacrifices they made in doing so.
As local guest speaker and Select Board member Andrew Schultz pointed out, many individuals who fought in Vietnam were fresh out of high school, roughly between the ages of 18-24. More than 3 million Americans responded to the call to serve, over 58,000 of whom died in combat within that 17-year period.
Those in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony were very responsive to the speakers and presentations; audience members reverently echoed Reverend Richard Hughes’s “Amen” during the Invocation prayer, and collectively sang the last few lines of the National Anthem, which was performed by Kerrin Mullen.
The U.S. Navy Honor Guard led the Presentation of Colors, a military demonstration that honors our country’s respective flags for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Further along in the program, Capt. Steve Castinetti, USN (Ret.) spoke about the meaning behind the “Missing Man Table Ceremony,” which was presented by the Lynn English JROTC Marine Corps Cadets.
During the demonstration, Castinetti explained that each of the items placed on the dinner table serve a deeper purpose for what they symbolize. The cloth is white, to symbolize the purity of soldiers’ motives when answering the call to serve. A single red rose reminds us of the lives of those Americans who have fought for us, as well as their loved ones and friends who keep faith, while seeking answers. A pinch of salt symbolizes our tears for our missing loved ones, while the lighted candle represents our hope for their safe return.
Following this emotional tribute, the JROTC Marine Corps Cadets performed a precise drill presentation, which was shortly followed up by a separate drill team presentation led by and Sergeant Major Ken Oswald.
Thursday’s honored guest speaker was state Senator Bruce Tarr, who vehemently recognized the strength and courage American soldiers embodied while fighting in the Vietnam War, despite the lack of public support at the time. In addition to always working in the best interest of our country’s veterans, Tarr believes we should be concerned with pressing matters such as unemployment, homelessness, and substance abuse, which have taken an immense toll on the lives of millions of veterans.
Toward the end of the service, a roll call of honor was read for all local Vietnam veterans killed in action as well as in-memory veterans who passed post-war. North Reading’s Veterans Department honored three local brave young men who died overseas, Sgt. Eugene R. Moreau (1966), Lance Cpl. Jimmie M. Couto (1968), and Spec. 4 Daniel D. Callahan (1968).
The North Reading Minit and Militia then concluded the ceremony by presenting a volley, followed by “Taps,” a traditional military bugle call. As it was played those individuals meandering by The Wall turned toward the presentation, out of respect for the veterans in attendance, and stood with their hands resting over their hearts.
The Outreach Manager of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Julianna Baylock, expressed that it was a humbling experience to witness Thursday’s ceremony and she is confident that their organization will continue educating Americans on the trials of the Vietnam War moving forward.
After Thursday’s opening POW/MIA ceremony, a Welcome Home commemoration was held on Friday, August 16, followed by a Candlelight Vigil on Saturday, August 17 featuring the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Band and a Closing Ceremony on Sunday August 18. Dozens of local volunteers are to thank along with Veterans’ Director Susan Magner for bringing The Wall That Heals exhibit to North Reading for the town’s benefit.
For those who may have missed a chance to view The Wall and would like to learn more about its history, they may visit www.vvmf.org.