- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - When Marine Corps veteran Derek Hendershot saw the impact the Vietnam Veterans Wall had on veterans in his hometown of Placentia, California, he set out to do the same thing for veterans of the War on Terrorism.

Since at the time there were no national monuments honoring the Desert Storm and Desert Shield veterans, Hendershot saw a need.

He hooked up with J.R. Nichols and David Brown, who constructed the Wall of Remembrance, and decided to take it on the road.

Through a program called Vision 2 Victory, a program aimed at reintegrating veterans into civilian life, Hendershot started touring the country with the wall.

At the request of area Vietnam veterans, Hendershot brought the wall to the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Reunion. The wall was brought from Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis to the veterans grounds on Indiana 26 Tuesday.

To honor the more than 11,000 names on the wall, the reunion organizers held a brief ceremony as a way to let the families of those people know they are not forgotten.

To commemorate the event, Mayor Greg Goodnight, Kokomo Police Chief Rob Baker and Kokomo Fire Chief Nick Glover took the stage and thanked the veterans for making the reunions such a success and to honor those who perished fighting for our freedom.

“Today, we honor those who didn’t come home,” said Goodnight. “Thank you to all the veterans and the people for bringing this wall to the healing field.”

Doug Kilgore, president of the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Organization, said he expects record crowds at this year’s reunion with the wall being here.

Even though, the reunion kicks off with opening ceremonies Thursday, thousands of veterans had already set up camp and are ready for the festivities.

“We’ve never seen this many people here on a Wednesday,” he said looking out on the sea of tents and military flags waving.

A member of the organization since 2001, Kilgore was recently voted in as president of the organization.

“We couldn’t do this without the volunteers,” he said. “We have some great people out here.”

Among the names on the Wall of Remembrance are eight area soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The best feeling, said Hendershot, was when Teri Rose, the mother of Neil Simmons, who died in Iraq in 2007, came to see the wall.

“It’s about the mothers and the families of those guys,” said Hendershot.

“The most overwhelming part besides seeing Neil’s name is how many names are on the wall,” Rose told the Kokomo Tribune (https://bit.ly/1udKRIA ).

“It’s always emotional. He’s right there with the other two (soldiers) he was killed with,” Rose said of Neil. “I’m glad they put them together. That important to me.

“It’s very important that these folks who have these traveling wall and memorials continue to do this, especially at a time when we’re back at it with Iraq.”

Another emotional time at the wall, Hendershot recalled, was when the family who was freed from Iraq in 2003 came to see the wall in Nashville, Tennessee.

After being freed, the family moved to the United States and the father joined the military. He was sent back there to fight and lost his life.

“When the family saw his name, they broke down,” said Hendershot. “They didn’t think anybody cared.”

For the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, Hendershot said they set up the wall six times around the country.

“It was only meant to be set up once,” he said. “Since then, we’ve set it up 49 times. And we’re adding more names every day.”

Since April, Hendershot said he has spent 20,000 miles on the road taking the wall to different communities around the country.

“We call it the front porch, because it brings people together.”

Standing about 6 feet tall and over 100 feet long, the wall contains 31 panels with 11,000 names from the Beirut bombing, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, the victims of the 9/11 attacks, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

“We’re here to tell their stories,” Hendershot said of the wall. “We try to unite veterans together especially the younger ones.”

“The Vietnam veterans didn’t have any kind of welcome home,” said Travis McVey, who travels with Hendershot.

“The Vietnam veterans made sure we got a welcome home.”

McVey, a Marine Corps vet, served as a Presidential Honor Guard from 1989 to 1992. After losing a friend, Thomas Rabjohn, in the war on terror, McVey wanted to do something to help out veterans so he created his own business making Heroes vodka with his proceeds going for the care of veterans.

“It brings back memories,” McVey said of seeing Rabjohn’s name on the wall.

“When you reach out and touch a name he makes you smile and remember the good times. After I saw his name, I met his brother. It was like seeing a ghost.”


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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