My year in movies

The year 2016 was a good but maybe not great year in film and since I love movies I thought I’d take this opportunity to list my favorite films of the past year.

Okay, so I’m no movie expert. I wouldn’t know a key grip if one were siting next to me.

But I do enjoy the movie experience, what they mean to me and how they move me. So, between Richmond and Dayton I try to see as may as I can each year. I have to say, 2016 was a strange year in which there were not a lot of great movies until late in the year.

So, after a mediocre spring and summer movie season, the year ended on a tremendous high note with a glut of great movies. That was both good and bad since it was difficult to see all the best movies by the end of the year.

And (again) since I’m no expert I base this list on sight, sound and emotion; movies that moved me, made me think, made me laugh, entertained me, opened my eyes. I ‘m especially drawn to the ones that haunted me and stayed with me for days after a viewing.

So with apologies to movies like “Jackie,” “Silence,” “Loving,” “Lion” and “Birth of a Nation,” none of which I saw, here is the list of my faves.

Again, I base these movies on what they meant to me.

1. Manchester by the Sea (Gritty yet so powerful, so sad, so haunting. Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges are superb, as is Michelle Williams in a smaller role. Just the best.)

2. La Land Land (Just loved it. It made me smile throughout. Grand performances and there is something I love about Emma Stone.)

3. Moonlight. (Another great film. Troubling and sad yet tender and beautiful. Moving and unsettling with extraordinary performances by a relatively unknown cast.)

4. Sing Street (Terrific film from the Irish. So fun, so entertaining. A great rental if you’re looking.)

5. Fences (Great performances, powerfully sad. Had such a raw an authentic feel. Who doesn’t love Denzel Washington and Viola Davis?)

6. City of Gold (Fascinating look at the food, geography and culture of Los Angeles as told through the eyes of LA Times food writer Jonathan Gold. Great film, so interesting, a must see.)

7. Hacksaw Ridge (Rugged and brutal but a great story, great performances and great direction. Haunting yet inspirational)

8. Indignation (Terrific film based on the Phillip Roth book. Fascinating, puzzling but memorable.)

9. Allied (Loved it. Great period piece. Great performances.)

10. Weiner (Great stuff. Wonderful inside look at the collapse of a politician. Left me scratching my head.)

11. Dark Horse (2015) (Such a good movie, had to include it in this year’s list. Real people and a great underdog story.)

12. Patriot’s Day (Another powerful and moving film. Emotional and draining. So well done.)

13. Sully (Tom Hanks continues to amaze, aided by solid support from Aaron Eckhart. Understated movie that packs power.)

14. Rogue One (Gritty and interesting. Not a slave to pyrotechnics and goofy characters. I liked it more than I thought I would.)

15. Hell or High Water (Crazy, offbeat, but I really liked it. Terrific performances by Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges.)

16. Hidden Figures (Incredible story told well. Terrific performances. Jim Crow, the space race and math all in one movie. Wow!)

17. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (All right, so I got sucked in by the sorta journalistic look at life in war torn Afghanistan. But there are laughs and Tina Fey delivers.)

18. Money Monster (Good but not great story, a bit contrived but good Clooney performance.)

19. Don’t Think Twice (Good film, not great. A few laughs but not as many as you would guess in a film about a comedy troupe.)

20. Fantastic Beasts & Where You Find Them (Crazy entertaining film but not necessarily my cup of tea.)

How was your movie-viewing year? Tell me what you think.

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Pro bono demand is growing

 

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Richmond attorney Don Simkin, left, was honored as volunteer attorney of the year at the Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Commission’s luncheon in December.

The Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Commission had a banner year in 2016.

Okay, so “banner year” is not a good way to describe the two-person office on the third floor of the Richmond Municipal Building. Last year they were busy. Extremely busy.

That’s because the need for their services continues to grow in Wayne County. Pro bono offers free legal help for county residents in civil matters. In 2015, the office and its roughly 12 volunteer attorneys received just short of 700 applications for help.

This year that number topped 794, 672 of which were from clients needing help with family law issues, things like divorce, custody, support, visitation and to a lesser extent guardianship.

Who are their clients?

“A lot of our clients are the working poor, people working two or three part-time jobs or a full-time minimum wage job,” said executive director Shane Edington. “They are people trying to keep a roof over their head, put food on the table and keep a car running. They don’t have a lot of extra income for legal situations.”

“And of course many are children. They are at the heart of what we do. They are the most vulnerable segment of our society,” he said.

About 20 percent of the applicants are people also struggling with addiction.

“You might have a case where dad is in jail for drugs and mom is battling addiction, and grandma and grandpa are raising the kids. Many of our cases involve drugs and addiction. We spend a lot of our time dealing with parents who are not able to care for their kids because of addiction.”

Right or wrong, it’s a sign of the times in Wayne County.

Edington said that the commission’s No. 1 goal this year is to recruit more volunteer attorneys. He said he’s had 10 applications for help in the first 11 days of this year.

“The need is growing. We clearly have to recruit more help,” he said. “My goal is to meet with every single attorney in Wayne County to see if they are able to help.”

Currently, attorneys like board vice president A.J. Sickman, Amy Noe, Don Simkin, Cory Bell, Abby Rohmiller, Adam Forrest, Bruce Metzger and others have volunteered their time for pro bono cases.

In 2015, the commission also began offering free legal help with mortgage foreclosure defense to residents in Wayne, Union and Randolph counties.

Pro bono will host a free “meet with an attorney” night from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday (Jan. 16) in the Bard Room at Morrisson-Reeves Library. Residents can get a 20-minute free legal consultation with a local attorney that night.

The commission operates on a $65,000 per year budget, all of which comes from fund-raising and grants, including from the Wayne County Foundation. Other support has come from the United Way of the Whitewater Valley, the Indiana State Bar Foundation, the Doxpop Donor Advised Fund and the Chase Bank Settlement Agreement.

The commission receives no government funding and is a 501 (c) (3) and donations are tax deductible.

Fund-raising is done through an annual 5K race and golf outing during the summer and an awards luncheon in December.

Anyone wishing to donate can do so by mailing a check to the Wayne County Pro Bono Commission, 50 N. Fifth St., Richmond, IN 47374 or by dropping off a contribution at the office on the third floor of the Richmond Municipal Building from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Donors can also go to the commission’s website and click on the “Pay-Pal” link. For information, call (765) 983-78353.

Windmill flap

I used to like to sit out in my back yard with my wife and my little wood burner on gorgeous summer nights. It was dark and relatively quiet and lovely.

Then my neighbor’s garage was broken into and he installed a big flood light out back. My neighbor on the other side then paid RP&L to reinstall the streetlight in our alley. I didn’t like it and it wasn’t as much fun to sit out in the back yard at night, but that was their prerogative.

I understood then and I’m used to it now.

Anyway, the Wayne County Commissioners this week have voted to limit wind energy conversion systems, industrial windmills they are called, making it more difficult to get permission to install one that is over 15 feet and under 100 feet above the roof tops, and making it damned near impossible to have a windmill over 100 feet.

That could kill a proposal from a wind energy company called EDP Renewables to install a wind farm in northwest Wayne County, part of a wind farm that would extend into Randolph and Henry counties.

In Wayne County, wind turbines 15 feet tall and under are permitted. So are turbines 16 to 100 feet tall but they require a variance of use from the county board of zoning appeals for study and approval.

But wind turbines taller than that are not permitted, which pretty much nixes the EDP project. Their plans call for about 100 turbines with towers that would be 300 feet tall with a blade span of 495 feet.

They would produce electricity that the company would then sell for a profit. Its production output would not, as I understand it, directly benefit Wayne County residents.

But there is due process. Anyone wishing to install an industrial windmill can always go to the BZA and try to make a case for it. But one of the criteria BZA folks would use in their ruling would be hardship, and it would be a tall order for someone to argue that they were suffering a hardship if they couldn’t install a 300-foot wind turbine.

Anyway, a meeting of the Wayne County Advisory Plan Commission Monday drew more than 200 people, the majority of whom opposed the wind farm in Wayne County. They argued a drop in property values, disruption of idyllic rural life through noise pollution and health concerns, scrambled logic in trying to put 100 turbines in a somewhat populated area, adverse economic impact, problems with decommissioning structures if the company went bankrupt, Chinese Communist bandits trying to infiltrate the American power grid and bird decapitation.

Now I’m a true believer that wind energy should be an important component in the effort to meet the future fuel source needs of this area, the region and the nation. Global warming is real and we have to do something to address the problem for future generations.

But I must admit that I’m conflicted on this project. The need for development, implementation and use of wind energy systems, I believe, is vital. But this does not appear to be a good fit for Wayne County.

Yes, there would be benefits locally, like a sizable increase in the assessed value of land in the county, which could benefit all taxpayers, and financial rewards for landowners choosing to host wind turbines.

But this is not a light in a back yard. There clearly would be an impact on “country life” that could go beyond fouling the scenery. It could impact property values, though research I’ve seen is split on that issue. And I don’t believe a wind farm is an economy-killing or job-killing prospect.

Some people just don’t want to look at them, which is not an important criteria in county government’s decision making process. Still, that sentiment fires people to rise up in opposition.

I can’t say that I would want to have a wind farm in my neighborhood, or anywhere nearer than, say, Randolph County (I don’t get up there much). I drive Interstate 65, by the ones near Lafayette, and in central Illinois and they are interesting, but not something I would want to look at every day.

Still, if they installed a wind farm near me, say somewhere around Centerville or Fountain City or Reeveston, it would impact my every day life But it appears that that will not be happening any time in the foreseeable future.

Which is sad since I’m a believer in property rights and there are a number of people in Wayne County in favor of a wind farm here. But I also believe in the “greater good.” Neighbors clearly do not want a wind farm in their midst.

This time the greater good won out. I want this community to grow and prosper. I’m just not sure this is the way.

Preserving a tradition

Scott Bartel is a preservationist.

His passion is restoring the architecture of a community built during the burgeoning prosperity of a bygone era.

But his heart burns for jazz and its message from the past.

“Musically, I feel like I have been entrusted with a tradition,” Bartel said. “There is a message and I have to carry that message forward.”

The 30-year-old Richmond man is owner and operator of an architectural restoration firm in Richmond. His passion is restoring, rebuilding actually, historic homes, including his own at the corner of 22nd and East Main Street in Richmond.

But then there’s the jazz. Bartel can be heard some days pounding out a subtle but determined jazz beat in his home, a stone’s throw from Test Middle School..

Bartel is bringing his jazz combo, Bruderschaft (German for Brotherhood), to Glen Miller Park for the City Life celebration Saturday. The 7 p.m. show is free and open to the public.

His music is a modern day version of the sound that was born and bred in Richmond when Gennett Records offered a tiny recording studio in the city’s center. In the late 1920s and ‘30s, that studio attracted some of the early pioneers of recorded jazz.

It became a Richmond tradition.

As City Life organizers hope to offer the community a taste of the city’s arts, Bartel hopes to remind residents musically that the city has a past built, to an extent, on music.

“This is a chance for people to experience the music and see that there is a message,” Bartel said. “It is the message of jazz, the message of the American tradition.”

Bartel started drumming in fifth grade, inspired buy the work of bands like Depeche Mode and The Police.

He found jazz when his grandmother, Betty Bartel-White, played Jeff Hamilton’s “It’s Hamilton Time” for him.

Hamilton is also a Richmond native and an accomplished jazz drummer who has played on over 200 recordings with artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall and Barbara Streisand.

Bartel’s favorite track was “Blues For You.”

“I listened to that track every night before I went to bed,” he said. “It just hit me. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

He saw Hamilton at Civic Hall in Richmond and introduced himself. The two struck up a friendship that led to Bartel’s spending a week in Los Angeles with Hamilton, practicing for hours each day under his tutelage.

“He was super kind to me,” Bartel said. “But he was hard on me, on my playing. He tore me up. But I learned so much. Jeff was like a god to me.”

Bartel tried the Indiana University School of Music but left after a semester on the advice of David Baker, the IU prof, and renowned jazz musician, composer, historian and author.

“It just wasn’t for me. David Baker was the one who told me to just go play music,” Bartel said.

He studied for six months with jazz drummer John Von Ohlen in Cincinnati. Von Ohlen played for Woody Herman and Stan Kenton before forming his own Blue Wisp Big Band in Cincinnati.

Bartel then spent almost six years in Los Angeles, playing in clubs and recording in studios, working days selling clothes at Banana Republic.

He spent two winters in New York, gigging five nights a week in clubs for a hand full of dollars and “waking up every morning unemployed.”

“I just got tired of the hustle for little pay. It was always so competitive. I got tired of the hustle, the pay, the politics.”

So he decided to come back “to chill” in Indiana.

“This is where I’m from,” said Bartel, the great-grandson of German immigrants. “Since Germany, my family has lived here. For me, it’s pretty cool to have the family here. It’s something that can’t be bought, something that can’t be recreated. You are what you are.”

He bought the two-story home at 22nd and East Main. The Italianate structure, owned by Viola and Isham Sedgwick, was built in 1872. Isham Sedgwick was an inventor who owned a wire fencing plant in the city.

The home was once a mansion but had been forgotten and reduced to apartments in the 1950s.  Additions and stairways were added. At one time, a beauty parlor was operated out of the back of the building.

Bartel started work rebuilding the home. Soon people noticed his work and began asking him to do work for them. From that came his restoration business.

“It was like being a musician. People would see my work and ask me to do things for them,” he said. “The business has grown by itself.”

The transformation on his own home started three years ago and he admits that the project could take him 30 years.

“The most honest thing this house could be is returned to its original form,” he said. “This has been an educational opportunity for me and for the community. What better way to learn and to give back to the community than to restore an old home like this.”

He loves to talk about what he’s done and what he still has to do. Stop by and he’ll take you through the construction project even if it means scrambling up a ladder to get to the second floor.

He’s torn off additions, torn out staircases, reconnected floors and rebuilt moulding and cabinetry. He hauled 10 steam radiators up to the second floor. He is in the process of rebuilding a barn out back.

Still, there’s the jazz.

That’s what Saturday is all about.

“We’re trying to preserve the language of jazz, but to move it forward, to make it speak to today,” he said. “We want to introduce people to jazz and remind them that it has a message that continues.”

Glen Miller Park, 7 p.m.

It’s City Life

The Richmond Parks and Recreation Department will once again partner with the city’s arts organizations to present City Life in Glen Miller Park Saturday.

The fourth annual event offers hands-on art activities, live music, a pond fire and live art creations.

“It will be an exciting evening,” said Richmond Art Museum executive director Shaun Dingwerth. “I see it as a great chance for the community to sample what’s available in this community in terms of the arts.”

The event offers a performance by the Richmond Jazz Orchestra, the Richmond Community Orchestra and The Wing Walkers, representing the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. There will also be a drum circle, organized by Earlham College music professor Keith Cozart, that features 30 minutes of games, activities, stories and songs for all ages, based on the sound and rhythm of the hand drum.

Richmond Civic Theatre is also participating and the event’s primary sponsor is the Indiana Arts Commission.

There will also be a performance by Bruderschaft (Brotherhood), featuring a group of professional jazz musicians brought together by Richmond jazz drummer Scott Bartel.

They include jazz trumpeter Marlin McKay, a recent Indiana University graduate who studied under Dr. David Baker, pianist Keith McCutcheon, who is director of the African American Choral Ensemble at Indiana University, bassist Brandon Meeks of Indianapolis and tenor saxophonist Javier Veraga, who has been a mainstay on the Los Angeles jazz scene for over 20 years.

Alisha Estabrook, Richmond parks community recreation coordinator, said there will be painting activities and demonstrations, including the painting of at least one full-size mural.

“People can expect to get a taste of a little bit of everything,” she said. “If they like music and painting and drumming it should be a great evening.”

The event is the brainchild of Mayor Dave Snow before he was elected last November. Snow was the creator, founder and first director of City Life.

“I came up with the concept because I really believe the arts of a community tell the narrative of that community and are essential to the life of the community,” Snow said. “We are lucky to have the arts we have here and this event is designed to break down the barriers and get more people connected to the arts.”

There will also be food available for purchase during the evening.

The schedule includes:

5-5:30 p.m. Arts and music activities with Keith Cozart’s drum circle;

5:30-6 Performance by the Richmond Community Orchestra;

6 p.m. Lighting of the Glen Miller Pond;

6-6:30 Performance by the Richmond Jazz Orchestra;

6:30-7 Performance by The Wing Walkers;

7 p.m. Performance by Bruderschaft

The 40 who died

Thomas Deitemeyer was a quiet young man who loved hunting and fishing.

He worked at the Kemper Cabinet plant in Richmond before joining the U.S. Army in 1966.

He didn’t want to go to Vietnam, his mother Evelyn Deitemeyer said in 1990, but he tried to calm her fears by telling her, “I’ll only be over there for a year.”

He died there Feb. 12, 1967, 11 days short of his 21st birthday. He was a platoon leader, walking patrol in the Mekong Delta when one of the men walking behind him stepped on a land mine. Deitemeyer and several other soldiers were killed.

Today, his name is listed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Panel 15E Line 019, and on The Wall That Heals that opens Wednesday in Richmond.

img_0903-copyDeitemeyer was one of the 40 men from Wayne County killed in Vietnam. He, in many ways, is representative of those who died in that far away war in that far away land.

They were young, good looking men, trusted sons, loving brothers, husbands, cousins and classmates, full of energy and purpose. Futures were bright in those days as young men thought of cars and girls, high school graduation and landing good jobs.

Clothing was going mod, music morphing from Motown and surf tunes to psychedelic. Manufacturing was still booming and factory jobs were plentiful, but there was this distant war and a chance to serve and see the world.

Most understood little of the politics that surrounded Vietnam. Many could not find it on a map. But they knew this war was expanding, communism must be stopped, and they knew their country needed them.

Most were just anxious and proud to serve.

PFC Darrell Lee Covington attended Short High School in Liberty and was a 1968 Richmond High School graduate. He worked at Johns-Manville after graduation until he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was killed in fighting near An Hoa in South Vietnam June 9, 1969. He was 19 years old.

These men had many things in common. One was that their parents really never got over the loss. Covington’s father, Lee Covington of Richmond, wrote a poem to his son, which was published in a Johns-Manville newsletter.

In a short excerpt, his father wrote

“He was full of life and he lived it well,

But he loved his country more than tongue can tell.

Yes, his life was short with its laughter and pain

But I know that someday we will meet again.”

Covington’s name is at Panel 23W Line 188.

Robert Person worked as a machine operator at NATCO before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He was walking patrol when he stepped on a land mine. He died three days later, Sept. 11, 1969.

“He was a very good son,” his mother, Mary Louise Person, said in 1990. “But he never talked about his experiences over there in his letters. In his last letter he said he was going out in the field for a couple of days and he would be right back. But he never came back.”

Person’s name is at Panel 18W Line 084.

Most didn’t talk about it in their letters, the awful things they saw and did. They did their jobs until the day they died. Most of those returning also didn’t talk about it. That’s why bringing the Wall back to Richmond every five years or so is so important.

They served, and died, as young men, fearless and full of enthusiasm, brimming with patriotism. Twenty-six of them died during the war’s most brutal years, 1967-1969. Most were 21 or younger.

David Downing was a standout football and basketball player and wrestler at Centerville High School. A trophy honoring the school’s best all around student athlete is still given in his name. It honors on-field heroics as well as classroom performance and citizenship.

Downing was killed by a booby trap during Operation Junction City, a massive U.S. operation near the Vietnamese-Cambodian border March 11, 1967. It was the largest U.S. airborne operation since World War 2. He was 21 years old.

In 1990, his father, Raymond Downing, said he felt it the instant his son was killed. He said he felt it in his heart. David Downing’s name is at Panel 16E Line 057.

Former Palladium-Item photographer Steve Koger served in Vietnam in 1969. So did his friend Danny Sinnott. Both had worked in the PI mailroom before joining the military.

Koger was wounded in fighting near Chu Lai on June 13, 1969. He was sent to a hospital in the rear for a month to recuperate. When he returned his company commander told him they had lost one man in Koger’s absence.

It wasn’t until weeks later when Koger received a back copy of the Palladium that he learned that that one soldier was Sinnott.

“It was real hard,” Koger said in 1990. “For a while after that I thought maybe if I hadn’t been hit or if I had come back a couple of weeks early maybe he wouldn’t be dead. Maybe something else would have happened.

“But in reality there’s probably nothing I could have done,” he said.

Danny Sinnott’s name can be found at Panel 21W Line 049.

That’s war. Nothing is fair. The good die young. Every one of the 40 has a story, all sad. Young men fighting the good fight, chewed up by the meat grinder of a distant war.

Regernaild Webster was not from Richmond, but he lived here for several years while working at Richmond Perfect Circle Division of Dana Corporation. He was murdered in Phuoc Long Province in South Vietnam Dec. 27, 1969. Military records do not indicate if his murderer was ever caught.

But Webster’s image lives on in Richmond history. He is pictured in a famous photograph as one of several young men who volunteered and fought fires in downtown Richmond after a massive explosion April 6, 1968. His name is at Pane 15W Line 100.

Steven Wright of Centerville was a conscientious objector and served as a medic in the war. His father was a CO in World War II as was his grandfather in World War I. In a letter home, he wrote “I personally dragged my platoon sergeant’s body through 50 feet of water so he could be sent home. He was dead from a bullet hole in the back of his head. I know I would not want to be left behind for the VC, dead or alive.”

Wright died from small arms fire while aiding comrades during combat operations in Dinh Tuong Province July 9, 1968. His name can be found on Panel 52W Line 005.

Heroes all:

*Tommy Hofer (Panel 27W Line 049) of Richmond enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1968. He was shot and killed by a sniper only three weeks after arriving Vietnam and was buried the day before his 19th birthday.

*Karl Klute (Panel 06E Line 007), a pilot and daredevil type, volunteered for Vietnam in the hopes of one day qualifying for the astronaut program. He died piloting his F-100 jet during a strafing run against the Viet Cong March 14, 1966.

*Kenneth Musselman tried to talk his son Harold (Panel 30W Line 021) out of going to Vietnam. Harold planned to follow his brother Robert (Panel 28E Line 069) to Southeast Asia. “I tried to talk him out of it but it didn’t pan out,” Kenneth said in 1990. “They were darn good boys and I think about ‘em every day.”

Robert Musselman was 25 when he died Oct. 25, 1967. Harold Musselman was 19 when he died March 3, 1969.

*Cary Miller died Oct. 6, 1969. In August, eight members of his former unit in Vietnam, returned to Richmond for the sixth time to honor his memory. “He will never be forgotten,” said Linda Retter, the woman Cary planned to wed when he came back from overseas.

Long wars yield long lists of war dead and tear apart towns like Richmond. They kill young men and leave long lines of grieving parents, relatives and friends.

Still, a country that honors its fallen is a great nation, one that will remember and learn from its past. When these 40 men died, a little piece of the community died with them. We rebuild our lives and rebuild our community by honoring that tragic loss.

They are gone now but, thanks to the veterans who live on, who build memorials in Washington and Richmond, they are remembered. And thanks to those veterans and their families, The Wall That Heals will let us remember again.

Wayne County casualties included:

  • Curtis Lamarr Foster
  • Jon David Vannatta
  • Karl Edwin Klute
  • Jesse Floyd Wages
  • Burnie Harris
  • Terry Lee Wiles
  • Thomas Paul Deitemeyer
  • David Allen Downing
  • Donald Ray Rybolt
  • Herman Ray Cull
  • Thomas Clayton Benge
  • Teri Leigh Hines
  • Eddie James Allen
  • Robert Eugene Musselman
  • Terry Richard Clark
  • Jack Wayne Miller
  • Conrad E. Ross
  • Larry Robert McKinney
  • Ronald Lloyd Frazer
  • Stephen Louis Wright
  • Charles Vernon Firth
  • Raymond T. Conway
  • Thomas Herschal Schneider
  • David Joe Stansbury
  • Robert John Kuhlman, Jr.
  • Harold Earl Musselman
  • Joseph Walter Wysong
  • Thomas Edward Hofer
  • Darrell Lee Covington
  • Regernaild Webster
  • Daniel Bernard Sinnott
  • Billy Joe Caudill
  • Robert Lee Person
  • Cary Duane Miller
  • David Allen Hockett
  • Robert Kenneth Cole
  • Harry Thomas Henthorn
  • Gerald Vincent VanWinkle
  • Robert Lee Sowers
  • Jerry Duane Vance

Vietnam: A little background

vietnamOkay, so here’s a short (I hope) history lesson about the Vietnam War in advance of The Wall That Heals, the traveling Vietnam Wall, that is coming to Richmond Sept. 22-25.

I hope they teach this in schools but I wonder. And I hope if you are reading this you will share it with all those born after 1975 to provide them with some perspective.

Anyway, here goes.

The Vietnam War (it is widely accepted) lasted from Nov. 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975, though that depends on your definition of the war. Some argue that the war started Sept. 2, 1945 when Ho Chi Minh, a nationalist and eventually a community leader of North Vietnam, declared Vietnam independent of French control.

The U.S. government said the “Vietnam Era” lasted from Aug. 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975. U.S. front line troops fought in Vietnam for eight years from March 1965 to March 1973.

Okay, that’s confusing. But I hope you get the idea.

The war centered around Vietnamese efforts to oust the French from their country, eventually leading to the belief among many that the fighting was part of a worldwide plot by communists to take over Southeast Asia and later the world. The concept was that Southeast Asian countries would fall to the communists like dominoes, hence the Domino Theory.

Again, confusing and based on perspective, but we know the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong counterparts in South Vietnam were supported by Russia, China and other communist countries and the South Vietnamese were supported by the U.S., South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and other “free world” countries.

So let’s stick to the facts of U.S. involvement. Here goes:

From Jan. 1, 1965 to March 28, 1973, 3.4 million U.S. military personnel served in the Southeast Asian Theater (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand and sailors in adjacent South China Sea waters). Another 50,000 served there from 1960 through ’64, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Website VA Stats.

That Website reported that Vietnam veterans represented 9.7 percent of their generation.

Almost 2.6 million U.S. military personnel served in the borders of South Vietnam. Of those, 1 million to 1.6 million either fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack.

Of those, 7,484 women served in Vietnam, 6,250 as nurses. The U.S. troop strength in Vietnam hit a high of 543,482 on April 30, 1969.

The Wall That Heals is a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. At its dedication in 1982, the Wall (as it is known) included the names of 57,939 U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and air force personnel killed in Vietnam. That number grew to 58,286 by Memorial Day 2013.

By Memorial Day 2015, the number was 58,307.

That number included 1,534 from Indiana and 40 from Wayne County.

The bloodiest year of the war in terms of U.S. casualties was 1968 when 16,899 were killed. Next was 1969 with 11,780, then 1967 with 11,363. If my math is correct, that means 40,042 U.S. military personnel, or 68 percent of the total casualties, happened during those three years.

If you know someone who served in Vietnam during that time, please thank them for their service and congratulate them on surviving.

Who died in the Vietnam War? Mostly young men. The website militaryfactory.com reported that 14,095 U.S. 20-year-olds were killed in the Vietnam War, the most of any age group. Next were 21-year-olds at 9,705 and then 19-year-olds at 8,283.

That means that of all those U.S. troops killed in Vietnam, 32,083 were 19- through 21-year-olds, or 55 percent. A sad and tragic number.

The bloodiest battle for U.S. troops in the war? Again, hard to tell. For instance, officials list U.S. casualties in the Battle of Khe Sanh at 246, but that does not include skirmishes prior to the beginning of the NVA and Viet Cong siege, efforts to resupply or rescue the trapped U.S. forces, skirmishes on surrounding hills and those who died when the base was dismantled.

Taking those into account, Ray Stubbe, a U.S. Navy Chaplain during the siege and now a Khe Sanh historian, lists the number of U.S. casualties at closer to 1,000.

That too is confusing But these are the facts.

Eight women, all nurses, died in the Vietnam War, including one killed in action.

Sixty-one percent of the men killed in Vietnam were 21 years of age or younger.

U.S. wounded in action totaled 303,704; 75,000 severely disabled; 5,283 lost a limb; and 1,081 sustained multiple amputations. Amputations and crippling wounds to lower extremities were 300 percent higher in Vietnam than in World War II and 70 percent higher than Korea. Multiple amputations occurred at the rate of 18.4 percent compared to 5.7 percent in WWII.

Twenty-five percent of the total forces who served, or 648,500, were draftees. Draftees accounted for 30.4 percent, or 17,725, of combat deaths. Total draftees during the war numbered 1,728,344. Of those 38 percent served in Vietnam.

The last man was drafted June 30, 1973.

A total of 5,977 reservists were killed in the war and 6,140 National Guard personnel.

Seventy-six percent of the men sent to Vietnam were from lower middle/working class backgrounds.

Of those who actually served in Vietnam, 88.4 percent were white, 10.6 percent were black and 1 percent belonged to other races. Of combat deaths, 86.3 percent were white, 12.5 percent black and 1.2 other.

Also, 97 percent of Vietnam Era veterans were honorably discharged.

I know, these are all just numbers and don’t in any way represent the reality of the war, the sacrifice of our nation and the tremendous loss that families felt in communities around the country.

With that in mind, I will also take a look at those from Wayne County who died in Vietnam, based on my 26 years of reporting on veterans and veterans affairs in this community.

And, by the way, I was a draftee and served in Vietnam from January to the December 1972. I was honorably discharged and was one of the 1 million or so not in combat and not fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack. Still, at times, it was scary as hell.