Local Vietnam veterans honored with trip to Washington

Wanda English Burnett

Vietnam veterans were like most other veterans of foreign wars in one respect - they did not expect a heroes welcome when they returned home.

They also didn’t expect an angry crowd throwing not only verbal slurs at them, but physical objects such as tomatoes as described by one veteran.

These war heroes were no different than others who served before them in WWI, WWII, or Korea. They simply answered the call to duty as requested by their government.

PG Gentrup, Ohio County Veterans Service Officer and a Vietnam veteran himself, believes feelings of animosity toward those who served in the 60’s and 70’s in this unpopular war have diminished greatly. He also knows that education is the key for future generations to realize the great sacrifice these veterans made along with their families.

They served. They came home and had to silently deal with the horrors of death and war by themselves. “It was better not to talk about it,” Paul Scholle of Osgood, told The Versailles Republican. “You just did your duty, then were expected to forget about it and get on with your life,” he noted.

That’s exactly what Scholle did. He served in the Marines in Vietnam in 1968-69. He worked in administration because “I could type” in a hospital by day and carried an M60 patrolling the beaches at night. He remembered a mortar hit at the hospital where he worked.

Danger lurked everywhere no matter what military position you were in during the Vietnam War.
Scholle, along with four other Ripley County Vietnam veterans had the opportunity to take a trip to Washington DC recently, thanks to the generosity of the Dearborn Community Foundation and others who worked to bring it together.

Gentrup organized the trip through John Schuler Tours, that saw nearly 50 veterans taking a three-day bus excursion to Washington. Those from Ripley County besides Scholle included: Milton Howard, Sunman; Gene May, Versailles; Roy Mitchell Sr., Sunman; Willard Baker, Milan; and Ken Hylton, Veterans Service Officer for Ripley County.

The Ripley County veterans combined with those from Dearborn County to have three days to remember, reflect, respect and be honored for their service. Another veteran who helped organize the trip, Dave Teke, had tears in his eyes as he thanked others who served. He still feels the hurt of the unwelcome homecoming all those years ago and was honored to be numbered with those on the trip.

The veterans gathered at the Lawrenceburg American Legion Post where they boarded the bus. After a prayer by Chaplain Pat McClanahan of Moores Hill, the journey began. The bus was escorted in style by Lawrenceburg City Police to the interstate.

An all expense paid trip included meals and lodging at the Hampton Inn & Suites Washington-Dulles Hotel in Sterling, VA.

The group made a stop in Pennsylvania at the 9-11 crash site memorial. Right now there is a hole where the plane crashed with memorials on a fenced area. Plans are in the making to erect a memorial to the tune of $15 million to remember those lives lost when a plane headed for Washington DC was diverted and taken down.

The air held a solemn eerie feel as people just quietly read the accounts of the lives of those on the aircraft that were lost that day.

A big day of sightseeing was had on Saturday, September 18 as the group headed for the Vietnam veterans memorial - known as “the wall”.

Here these veterans know the cost of the war they served in. They can read thousands of names etched in stone. Many of the group from Dearborn County made rubbings on the wall and looked up fallen comrades.

They were able to see all of the monuments in Washington, memorials and the White House. A special time for the veterans was when they arrived at the Arlington National Cemetery for the Laying of the Wreath ceremony. Four veterans from the group, Dave Teke, Ed Shannon and Marty Sizemore, both members of the Vietnam Veterans of America #71, Aurora, and Tim Sandford, commander of the Lawrenceburg American Legion, were honored to participate in the ceremony that commanded absolute silence from the crowd gathered there. It was a time to remember all Vietnam veterans from Southeastern Indiana as the beautiful red, white and blue wreath was placed at the Tomb of the Unknown.

While the group definitely shed tears, had solemn moments and shared some horrific war experiences, they also bonded and had times of unbridled fun. Included in the tour was the visit the Uddvar-Hazy Air and Space Center in Chantilly, VA.

Even after a full day of touring, many of the veterans were game to return to Washington DC to view the monuments at night. The shining lights from the World War II memorial complimented the gushing fountains. World War II Veteran Bill McClure, 90, of Rising Sun, was on the trip and thoroughly enjoyed the memorial.

Several of the veterans on the trip were second generation military men. They told stories of their fathers serving and then their own experience, which was much different. Wayne Morgan, Moores Hill, was one such veteran who was treated to a VIP tour of the White House by a friend of his who is in security there.

The homecoming into Lawrenceburg was the best part of the trip for some. At first, it was quiet and perhaps they were remembering how it was all those years ago when they were spit on and had things thrown at them. This was much different. As the bus exited the Interstate into the City of Lawrenceburg, two fully marked police cars with lights on took the bus through the city with no interruption.

At first the bus was quiet, and then the realization dawned. They were being thanked for their service. The veterans were VIPs who deserved yet never commanded such a welcome. Back at the Lawrenceburg American Legion Post a group had gathered with signs to welcome the veterans back. The group clapped as the men exited the bus and there were plenty of hugs to go around.
Ripley County Veterans Officer Ken Hylton told The Versailles Republican he is working on getting a group of Vietnam veterans together for a similar tour for the spring of next year. He said he will seek grant money so the veterans do not have to pay anything. Hylton shared that there are about 2300 veterans altogether living in Ripley County.

Statistics from an Indiana University research revealed that 10.4% of the adult population in Indiana are veterans with 34% serving in the Vietnam era from 1961 to 1975.

To find out more about future trips or if your business or organization would like to fund part of the trip you can contact Hylton at 689-7165.

Above: Pictured are Vietnam veterans from Ripley County at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. Standing from left are: Willard Baker, Gene May, Paul Scholle, and Milton Howard. Front row kneeling are Roy Mitchell Sr. left, and Ken Hylton, right. Left: Paul Scholle has a moment of reflection as he pauses at statues of soldiers at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. Scholle, as the others, served during Vietnam.