The horror of Vietnam must never be forgotten.

July 9, 2021

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute is open to the public 24 hours a day through Sunday, July 11, at the end of the closing ceremony at 3 p.m.

Mike Flynn at right and Tom Sayles stand in front of the Traveling Vietnam Wall at the Oceana County Fairgrounds in Hart.

The horror of Vietnam must never be forgotten.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The brutality and devastation of the Vietnam War raged on for years and years, triggering political turmoil in the United States.

Over 58,000 US soldiers were killed in Vietnam, and 75,000 were severely disabled — many of whom lost limbs.


Sixty one percent of our deceased veterans were younger than 21 years old.

Vietnam veterans represented nearly 10 percent of their generation.

Even if they lived through the horror without visible injuries, many American servicemen were exposed to the harmful effects of Agent Orange and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Those who made it out alive and came back to their homeland were shunned by many Americans and even blamed for the war.


Four young men from Oceana County were killed in Vietnam: David Lee Aerts, 21, of Hart; Thomas Richard Annis, 23, of Hesperia; James Louis Martin, 21, of Shelby; and Howard Leroy Painter, 25, of Rothbury.

“This wall is amazing,” said Tom Sayles, 74, of Hart who served in Vietnam. “It’s just so hard to read all of the names, and it’s fun to look at the dates and remember when I was there and I am happy that I am not.”

Sayles and his friends visited the Traveling Vietnam Wall at the Oceana County Fairgrounds in Hart Thursday, July 7.

“We did a lot of working for each other over there. I went and got supplies and divvied them out so everybody could eat,” Sayles recalled. “It’s nice to live through it and be here.” He was drafted at age 19 when he was a student at Central Michigan University.

He remembers getting off the plane in Detroit when he returned from Vietnam and hitchhiking to I-94 in his Army uniform. “Everybody at the airport just whizzed by me,” he said. Finally, a man picked him


up and asked him where he was going, and he said Jackson. When they got to his exit, Sayles said he could let him out. The man instead drove him right to his driveway. Sayles saw a glimmer of hope from the man’s kind act after being ignored by so many others.

“There was at least one person who was happy to know we were back.”

A few days before taking that flight home, he recalls his commanding officer telling him what a great job he’s doing and encouraging him to re-enlist, but he opted to leave.

Ralph Aerts of Pentwater lost his cousin David Aerts in the brutal war. “We were 10 days apart,” said Aerts. “He lost his mother when he was 13.” The two grew up together and they were more like brothers than cousins, he said.

“I’ve been to the Washington wall twice, and I didn’t think it would be as hard to come to this one, but it is,” said Aerts.

“We lived four miles apart but we were in different school districts. He was an outstanding football


player for Scottville,” said Mike Flynn of Pentwater. “Ralph and I would go to his football games, and he would go to our basketball games.”

Sayles, like the other Vietnam vets visiting the wall, received a commemorative eagle head bronze pin from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Both Flynn and Aerts served in the military but fortunately they were not sent to Vietnam. Aerts said he was spared from the draft because he had a brother in Korea and a cousin in Vietnam.

They remember the fear of the draft dominated all young men’s lives at the time.

Tom Sayles, Mike Flynn and Ron Christians reminisce.

There was an office above the Oceana County Savings Bank in Hart that handled draft notices, said Flynn. “Every month it would come out, Oceana County needs six (soldiers) or whatever.

“I graduated June 8 from Central Michigan and enlisted in the National Guard June 10,” said Flynn. “Otherwise I was in the July draft. I was lucky.”

“The ‘60s were the hardest time of our lives,” said Aerts.

All of the men, now in their 70s, remember the war like it was yesterday, and that is why we must never forget.

Ralph Aerts points to his cousin’s name, David Aerts, who was killed in Vietnam.

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