Daughters of American Revolution create exhibit for all 228 N.H. soldiers killed during Vietnam

  • Resident Steve Kimball, an Army veteran of Vietnam, points out the name of a high-school classmate and friend on the wall Monday. Courtesy photos

  • Julie Pike, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, speaks during a ceremony in Tilton on Monday.

  • These little cards, 228 names of NH residents killed in Vietnam, fill the DAR wall. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

  • These little cards, 228 names of NH residents killed in Vietnam, fill the DAR wall. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

Published: 7/22/2019 5:47:47 PM

Two numbers stopped Julie Pike in her tracks during her speech Monday at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton.

One was 19, the average age of the 58,000 Americans killed during the Vietnam War. The other was 228, the number of New Hampshire residents killed in that war.

Those facts created a five-second gap during Pike’s speech, in a ceremony that featured the Fallen Heroes Moving Wall. It was created two years ago by the Laconia-area portion of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a nonprofit that promotes historic preservation and patriotism.

It’s 36 feet long and includes a series of unfolding panels, like a screen that provides privacy while changing clothes. It’s got name cards of all the state’s fallen. It has a replica dog tag packaged with each card.

It forces people like Pike to regroup moments after revealing this data. Her eyes moistened. She took a deep breath. Then she moved on.

Afterward, while sitting outside the auditorium, Pike explained her line of thinking.

“I just started to remember what I was doing at age 19,” Pike, 71, told me. “I lived through that war. I was in business school at the time.”

In short, Pike displayed a whisper of guilt during our conversation. She was safe during the war, learning at college in Boston.

Meanwhile, the wall she helped create had names on them. Like Sgt. Ronald Roach and SP4 Ronald Olson. Both lived in Concord. Both outlived the average age of those killed.

They were 20 when they died.

“These are truly gutsy people,” Pike said. “These are people who were gutsy to put on that uniform.”

That’s why events like Monday’s are held. To honor Vietnam veterans who, upon their arrival home, were not honored. While protesters took most of their anger out on the politicians, they had plenty of bitterness left to disrespect and belittle some of the soldiers once they had come back home.

Pike recalled an event at the Manchester Veterans Affairs, where members of the Massachusetts National Guard praised those who fought in Vietnam for laying the groundwork for what’s happened in recent years.

“They thanked these men for opening the way for them,” Pike said. “For opening the way for our current military coming home from Afghanistan.”

The change of heart, the empathy and appreciation directed at Vietnam veterans nowadays, is strong. They are no longer pariahs.

They are warriors who deserve to be honored. That’s why a film was shown to the dozens of veterans who filled the auditorium. It showed battle-tested, dirty, tired soldiers assisting Vietnamese children.

That’s the image we want to take from this war. Any war, really. We want images that show compassion, courage, sacrifice. It means a lot to those who fought.

And it means a lot to members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Rosalie Babiarz of Goffstown joined in 2001.

“My sister nagged me to join,” Babiarz said. “My grandmother, mothers, aunts and great aunts were in (the DAR). I had a lot of friends in Vietnam and one who died was close to me.”

“I was honored and thinking about relatives who went to Vietnam,” said fellow DAR member Elizabeth Hughes of Gilmanton. “They all made it back.”

And now, organizations like the DAR are making sure the counterculture’s cruel treatment of these returning veterans gets nudged into the background and stays there.

This mobile wall has its roots in 2015, in a place called Harvey’s Bakery in Dover. There, Pike – who had called a meeting and became the committee chairwoman – and other representatives from the Mary Butler Chapter in Laconia discussed ways to pay tribute to our fighting forces in Vietnam.

By 2016, the wall was up and touring. Its first stop was at the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery on June 4, 2016, and it made its way to the New Hampshire Veterans Home for the first time in 2017.

It came back Monday, a tribute to the 48 Vietnam vets who live at the home, plus all those from New Hampshire, the 228, who lost their lives.

Old men, some in wheelchairs, sang “God Bless America,” recited the pledge and received a history lesson.

They learned that a 15-year-old boy named Dan Bullock was the youngest American killed in the war; that 1,600 U.S. servicemen are still missing in action; and that the first major battle involving the United States was fought on Nov. 14, 1965.

They heard Taps played. They heard that the wall has gotten around, to vet centers and VA spots in Newington, Plaistow, Rochester, Hollis, Amherst and Tilton.

The event ended with DAR member Adele Basour reading the names of the home’s surviving Vietnam veterans.

For the men who remained seated in the audience upon hearing their name – mostly those who have lost the ability to stand – a staff member at the home waved an American flag above their heads to show where they were.

A lot of the residents being honored couldn’t make it, a sure sign that the Vietnam generation is aging, sometimes incapable of walking to the front of a room or down a hallway to see an event like this.

Regardless, each man was awarded a framed certificate.

Later, someone played the harmonica, accompanied by a man plucking a makeshift bass, made with a washbasin, paddles and a piece of rope.

I found Pike outside in the hallway, looking down, looking sad.

“When I was putting together the list, I saw the average was 19,” she told me.

Then she paused again, just as she did during her speech.

“It’s emotional,” she added.

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