Clarksville, TN – On Sunday, May 25th, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 396 held their annual Candlelight Vigil to remember the men and women who were left behind in Vietnam when American forces withdrew in 1975.
It is a solemn occasion when a nation gathers together to honor its soldiers, those who lived to come home, but even more importantly those who did not.“We hold this event to remember the POW/MIA’s from the state of Tennessee and all the remaining POW/MIA’s from across the country,” stated Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 396 Treasurer, Gery Ezell.
The local vigil was started in 1989, the same year Chapter 396 was chartered. It is the honored duty of this chapter to call the roll so those brothers and sisters will not be forgotten. It started with 43 names on the roster. Since then, 16 of our comrades have been returned or are accounted for. The latest was SSG Lawerence Woods in 2014.
There are still 27 missing POW/MIA’s from the State of Tennessee. Each one was honored in a ceremony held in front of the William O. Beach Civic Hall at Veterans Plaza in Clarksville Tennessee on Sunday evening.
The colors were posted by the honor guard of Montgomery Central High School JROTC. Then a single chair representing all of the POW/MIA’s nationwide was placed in a position of honor before the audience. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited, and a moment of silence was held. Then Rev. Scott Witt delivered the invocation.
The guest speaker for this year was LTC (Retired) Jose Garcia. Also on hand were City of Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, Tennessee State Representative Joe Pitts, Montgomery County Commissioner Ron Sokel, Montgomery County Commissioner Robert Nichols, and several Gold Star Wives.
Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan addressed a crowd of around 100 people, “It’s is humbling to be here tonight. To stand in the presence of all of you and those who are not with us because they have given so much for us to be here enjoying this beautiful on this solemn occasion.”
“I just want to say on the behalf of the City of Clarksville and everyone of it’s residence, we are thankful for the service that has been given by all of those. We are thankful for those who stood behind those such as the Gold Star Wives that are here with us tonight,” said McMillan. “We will never forget the sacrifice of those who have come before us.”
LTC (Retired) Jose Garcia stated, “I am truly honored to be here to recognize those who have sacrificed so greatly in service to our nation. We must never forget the men and women that gave the ultimate sacrifice or those who were never returned properly. We will not forget. Their memories are forever imprinted on the minds of the families and friends that were left behind.”
“Remember that Memorial Day is both a somber day and a day to rejoice. It is both a day to weep and to sing with joy. It is both a day of forgotten valor and a day to remember it. It is a day of springs renewal and the shadow of winters morality. Most of all, Memorial Day is the day to tell the stories of the soldiers of battlefields and decades past, so their stories will never be forgot,” stated Garcia.
It is the Soldier, not the minister, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Poem by Charles M. Province
During the ceremony, the 27 names were slowly read aloud, the bell pealed, as someone in the background intoned “Absent, but not forgotten.” The flame was lit. The empty chair, draped with a POW/MIA shirt and a placard, identifying the missing solider that it represented, was carried forward by a Montgomery Central JROTC, cadet who once it was in place stepped up before it, and rendered a silent salute.
The chair for U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Lawerence Woods was retired. His remains were identified September of 2013. His body was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on March 21st, 2014.
The POW/MIA chair was retired followed by the colors. Then Rev. Scott Witt delivered the benediction closing out the ceremony.
“It’s a solemn occasion because were looking at empty chairs. I look forward to a day when there will be no chairs and then we can just come together and celebrate the lives of those that have been recovered,” said Tennessee State Representative Joe Pitts.
“It’s always a somber event for people like me to be able to recognize those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and given their all for us to be able to be here tonight,” stated McMillan. “We are so thankful and it’s a debt we can never repay.”
Remembering these missing soldiers is indeed a solemn duty, and one that patriotic Clarksvillians are only too happy to undertake.
Below are the names of the missing Tennesseans. We offer our fervent hope that they too all find their way home once more.
1st Lieutenant John R. Baldridge Jr.
November 20th 1969
Lance Corporal James A. Benton
April 27th 1967
Specialist 4th Class Dwight A. Bremmer
December 14th 1971
Specialist 4th Class James A. Brown
August 12, 1970
Lieutenant Colonel Donald F. Casey
June 23rd 1968
Sergeant Echol W. Coalston Jr.
January 21st 1968
Corporal James B. Conway
April 13th 1966
1st Lieutenant Larry W. Cotton
March 9th 1970
Lieutenant Commander Carroll O. Crain Jr.
March 8th 1967
Lance Corporal Richard H. Dallas
April 27th 1967
Private First Class Joe L. Delong
May 18th 1967
Specialist 4th Class Billy J. Ellis
January 3rd 1968
Sergeant Donald P. Gervais
May 1st 1968
1st Lieutenant Gary A. Glandon
May 26th 1966
Seaman Apprentice Thomas A. Goetsch
September 17th, 1972
Captain Lucius L. Heiskell
February 6th 1967
Specialist 4th Class Jerry A. Hiemer
November 11th 1965
Private First Class James D. Hunter
October 29th 1968
Major Dale A. Johnson
November 27th 1966
1st Lieutenant Richard C. Lannom
Union City, TN
March 1st 1968
Petty Officer 1st Class James C. Newman Jr.
February 6th 1968
Sergeant Calvin A. Norris
November 3rd 1970
Major Lawerence B. Tatum
September 10th 1966
Lieutenant Colonel James A. Treece
October 7th 1966
1st Lieutenant John T. Welshan
Oak Ridge, TN
March 3rd 1968
Colonel David R. Williams
April 1st 1967
Captain William C. Woods Jr.
September 2nd 1972
Staff Sergeant Lawerence Woods
October 24th, 1964