Fallen veterans recognized, honored during rededication ceremony for Vietnam Memorial Orchard

Emotions were high Saturday morning, on Armed Forces Day, at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center during the rededication ceremony of the Vietnam Memorial Orchard along the side of Newt Road.

The memorial was renovated earlier this year as a small group of people, led by Friends of the Agri-Civic Center President Larry Gibson and Agri-Civic Center director Amanda Griffey, replaced 17 overgrown Bradford pear trees, which were invasive species and presented traffic problems, with eight dogwoods and nine red maples. Several members of Troop 4082, the first female Scouts BSA troop in the county, also helped.

The trees represent the 17 Stanly County residents who died in the Vietnam War.

Attorney Will Taylor created the Vietnam War headstone in 1998 for his Eagle Project. Bradford pears were planted honoring each of the deceased veterans.

Markers with pictures of each of the deceased veterans, which were donated by Hartsell Funeral Home, will be placed beside each of the 17 trees.

Markers bearing the photos of the deceased Vietnam veterans will be placed beside each of the 17 trees.

The soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice and are remembered with the memorial include Jimmy Dwayne Sells, Richard Lee Sickles, Larry Cecil Hathcock, William David Lambert, Henry Fonzo Smith, Donny Lynn “Reb” Tucker, James Felix Rummage, Larry Burns Turner, Jerry Arthur Snipes,  William James Maske, Milton Harris Legrand, Mitchel Thomas Morton, Eugene Paul Clark, Joel Clinton Hatley, Harry Lamar “Bucky” Blalock, Curtis Ray Harris and Harold Philip Fesperman.

The youngest soldier to die in the war was 18, Griffey said during the ceremony, while the oldest was 36. The average age when they died was 21.

Several family members of the fallen soldiers were in attendance, including Carolyn Foreman, the sister of Larry Hathcock, and Danny Burris, the cousin of Donny Tucker.

“We don’t ever want them to be forgotten,” Foreman said.

Paul Hummel, president of the Veterans Council, commandant of the Marine Corps League and commander of VFW Post 2908, presided over the official dedication of the memorial.

“To those who made the ultimate sacrifice, may this monument and orchard stand as an ever present and living reminder of the price of freedom,” Hummel said.

The Vietnam Memorial headstone along the side of Newt Road, with the trees honoring each of the fallen Vietnam veterans in the background.

Gibson, the FAAC president, echoed Hummel’s sentiments in a short interview after the ceremony, saying the 17 veterans are the “reason that we can walk here in America and be free. They’re the reason people are pouring in to the United States. Everybody wants freedom.”

Quoting from President Abraham Lincoln, Gibson said the 17 men “paid the ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Griffey, whose father was a Vietnam veteran and helped plant the new trees, said the ceremony was “validating” to see the 17 men being recognized and honored.

“I think a lot of times people forget about our Vietnam servicemen,” she said. “I’m really, really glad to see that people are supporting the memorial and increasing awareness about it.”

“This is meaningful and this is important to our community,” she added.

The plan is to erect a fence around the orchard and install a flagpole bearing the colors, which should help increase visibility for the memorial, Griffey said.

Saturday’s ceremony represented a full-circle moment for Taylor, the former Boy Scout who first created the memorial.

“I’m very excited to see what they’ve done here,” he said. “The thing that strikes me is that 25 years have gone by and there’s a new generation of trees, there’s a new generation of Scouts and a new generation of veterans, and I’m honored to have been a part of it all.

“I’m just really proud to see what the guys have done,” he added.