Traveling Vietnam Wall arrives in Hart with patriotic welcome.

July 7, 2021

Motorcyclists escort the wall to Hart.

Traveling Vietnam Wall arrives in Hart with patriotic welcome.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The American Veterans Traveling Tribute arrived at the Oceana County Fairgrounds Wednesday afternoon, July 7, with a warm and patriotic welcome from community members who lined the streets waving to the procession.

Local fire departments create a patriotic arch with ladder trucks and a gigantic US flag as the truck hauling the Traveling Vietnam Wall arrives in Hart.

The Traveling Vietnam Wall will be set up Thursday, July 8, and it will be open to the public at noon.

The display, which is free to attend, will remain at the fairgrounds until the closing ceremony Sunday, July 11, at 2 p.m.

After the procession into town, officials and community members gathered for an opening ceremony.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for this awesome opportunity to honor the men and women who so bravely served this country,” said American Legion Chaplain Ray Castillo during the Invocation. “Father God, we ask you to bless and strengthen those brave souls who selflessly gave of themselves without asking for anything in return. We pray you to heal our wounded warriors who returned home in pain after they gave their all for this great land.”

Serving as master of ceremony was Oceana County native Robert Near, who is the deputy director for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

“I’m a US Army veteran, a paratrooper, and I served in combat in both OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) as an airborne artilleryman,” said Near.

“I’d like to formally welcome you all to this year’s American Veterans Traveling Tribute hosted right here in beautiful Oceana County where I grew up.

Sawyer Hendrickson addresses the audience.

“This event is held to honor those who have fallen; those who have served; and those who continue to serve in our United States military.

“Before we start the event, I would like to bring your attention to the most important reason why we are all here today, it is to remember the reality of the cost of freedom. It was and is paid for by sacrifice.”

The ceremony featured two guest speakers Major Tad Reed, who owns Ludington Beverage Company, and 12-year-old Sawyer Hendrickson of Ludington, a child advocate for veterans and active military.

“This American hero served 18 years of active federal service,” said Near when introducing Reed. “He had a total of four deployments to include combat deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan as well as a humanitarian crisis response deployment to Liberia, West Africa

Tad Reed speaks during the opening ceremony.

for Operation United Assistance during the Ebola response spearheaded by the United States and the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault. He then transitioned in 2016 to the Michigan National Guard to bring his family home and to become the fourth generation co-owner of Ludington Beverage Company with Budde Reed and Rick Tyndall — both proud Air Force veterans.”

“This evening, we gather to honor and remember those who have

Robert Near addresses the audience.

paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this country — to THEIR country,” said Reed. “Our community is blessed to host the American Veterans Traveling Tribute — a fantastic salute to our American treasure.”

“The replica of the Vietnam Wall and the panels dedicated to additional American conflicts following Vietnam to present day visually tell the story of the toll our enemies, wars and conflicts have

Gina Mead, Oceana County Department of Veterans Affairs Community Relations representative, speaks to the audience. Mead was instrumental in bringing the Traveling Vietnam Wall to Hart.

taken on this great nation,” said Reed.

“Oceana and her surrounding counties are home to nearly 19,000 veterans today,” said Reed.

“Our community paid a heavy price in offering its sons and daughters in service,” said Reed. “Some were volunteers, some conscripts or draftees, but all swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America. All have earned a placed to be honored and remembered.

“This tribute serves to enlighten our youth,” said Reed. “It reminds us of our dedication and patriotism and commitments to freedom and democracy.”

“This tribute serves to represent the stories of the men and women of Oceana County, the counties of West Michigan and of this entire nation who have served our nation — served something greater than themselves.”

“We must always remember that every name on these panels also represents the costs to those who served with them — the parents and families and even children who loved them — who would trade their own lives to have prevented that hero’s name from ever being inscribed in a memorial.

Color Guard soldiers bow their heads in prayer.

Near introduced Hendrickson. “She is passionately motivated ever since her big brother (Kylar Henrickson) joined the USMC. Her goal is to raise awareness of the issues our veterans face today, such as delays and effective health care and mental health treatment, homeless veterans and veterans suicide awareness. She is an accomplished volunteer and has spent more time supporting our active and past military members, than most of us have in a lifetime.”

“I would like to thank the Oceana County Department of Veteran Affairs as well as the sponsors who worked so hard to make the Traveling Vietnam Wall as well as the ‘Remembering Our Fallen’ tributes possible to come to our area,” said Hendrickson.

“The Vietnam War was one of the most painful chapters in the history of our country. We lost over 58,000 of our fathers, sons, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors and friends. Every one of those names etched into this wall had a family. Every one of those names has a face and had a story.

“They were often blamed for a war they didn’t start when they should have been honored for serving our country.

“We must all remember, understand and never forget that our freedom isn’t free,” said the young speaker. “Being a patriot is not being political. I am not a Republican or a Democrat. There is no left or right to me. I am just 12 years old. I am a proud American. I am pro military.”

Color detail was represented by the US Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy, and Kathy Walton sang “The National Anthem.”

A wreath laying ceremony is set to begin Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

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