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Bucks veterans, families reflect at D.C. memorial

By ELIZABETH FISHER
Bucks County Courier Times

WASHINGTON — About 40 veterans from Bucks County traveled by bus to the nation's capital to participate in ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Located in Constitution Park near the Jefferson Memorial, the wall contains the names of the 58,000 men and women who died during the Vietnam War.

Memories were raw for most of the Bucks contingent, even those who had visited the monument many times before. It evoked a time of courage, loss and eventual healing, some said. Not 10 minutes after the bus dropped the group off near the memorial, Jesse Hill, a Bristol Township resident and a disabled veteran, was rubbing his fingers over a relative's name.

“Richard A. Hill. He was my cousin. This wall is my reminder that I made it home,” Hill said as he stood, leaned on his cane and snapped a salute.

Hill carried a small brass urn containing the remains of his brother-in-law, Jack Gaffney, who traveled with him to Washington on his first visit 25 years ago.

“He's going with me again,” he said.

John Wright and his wife, Sandy, also walked through the park where a reluctant autumn left canopies of leaves bristling in a slight breeze. Wright served in Chu Chi, where American soldiers fought the Viet Cong in narrow tunnels.

The war was terrible but Wright decided that now is a time for healing. He plans to return to Vietnam next year, this time to take in what he calls a “beautiful country” where “the people are really nice.” But Saturday was still a time of reflection for the Langhorne resident.

“You can stand here and hear people talking and laughing, but when you go down that slope to the wall, it's like walking into a church. It's so quiet down there,” he said.

At the black marble wall, mothers and siblings and children of fallen soldiers knelt to place red carnations, pictures and other mementos under their loved ones' names. Notes from now-grown kids that never knew their dads fluttered alongside other mementos, including a pair of combat boots and a drab green Army shirt with a faded name tag over the right-side pocket.

At 11 a.m. sharp, a parade of military bands, high school marching bands, patriotic floats and groups of veterans wended its way up the nearly two miles up Constitution Avenue to the memorial.

Crowds cheered and saluted as weathered-looking veterans marched by.

Not every spectator expressed patriotism. About 20 protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., shouted insults and carried signs with sayings like, “A Soldier Dies. God Laughs.” or “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

Their catcalls were ignored by most, except for one group of veterans who marched by and, in unison, offered a very non-military gesture to the demonstrators.

One of the crowd pleasers was a group of veterans from the Republic of Vietnam, soldiers who fought alongside the Americans during the war. The uniformed veterans carried a sign that said, “We honor those who fought.”

Lt. Hoa Pham said that Vietnamese veterans who were brought to the United States wanted to demonstrate their gratitude and solidarity with American veterans who fought so hard for freedom.

By late afternoon, most of the crowd left the park and headed to bars or restaurants for dinner before the ride home. Fairless Hills veteran Ed Sabol left one memory behind at the wall: an obituary for a close friend, Manny Favazza, who died recently, but who fought in the war in Sabol's unit.

“It's just a way to remember him,” Sabol said.

Elizabeth Fisher can be reached at 215-949-4173 or lfisher@phillyBurbs.com.

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