Wall ceremony expected to draw crowd

— There are a few numbers Charley Watkins, district 9 commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, remembers clearly about his year spent serving in the hostile, southeastern Asian jungles of Vietnam.

Two thousand three hundred - the number of hours he spent piloting the UH-1, or Huey helicopter.

Twenty-three thousand - the number of soldiers in his 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Two hundred and forty - the number of helicopter pilots in his class who served in Vietnam.

These are the numbers he doesn't like to remember:

• Seventeen. The pilots from his class who came home from Vietnam.

• Five. The number of times he was shot down.

The most important number - 768, or the number of his 11th Armored comrades decorated on the Vietnam memorial, the Moving Wall.

"It means," Watkins said Friday, his stern voice shaken a moment by emotion, "a great deal to me. I have a lot of friends over there on that Wall."

Watkins, who spent Friday showing Wall visitors the intricacies of a Huey flown in special for the event, was a "young, very aggressive," pilot in Vietnam. He also was the personal pilot for George Patton IV, 11th Armored commander and the son of World War II general George S. Patton.

Like his passenger's father, Watkins didn't spend much time being concerned about dying. An older man today, he considers himself lucky to have made it home when so many did not.

"I figure the good Lord has something else for me to do in life," he said.

Watkins is one of several people slated to speak during today's Moving Wall ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at about 11 a.m. at the Wall site at Loudy-Simpson Park.

Another Vietnam veteran, Gary Hinaman, of Rangely, also is slated to speak.

From the political realm, State Sen. Jack Taylor will appear as a speaker, and representatives from Sen. Ken Salazar and State Rep. John Salazar's office are slated to attend.

Today's ceremony will also include an F-16 flyover at about 11:30 a.m.

The Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., contains the thousands of names of soldiers who died or are missing in action from Vietnam.

Bill Harding, Moffat County Veterans Service Officer, said he believes a large crowd will be on hand for today's ceremony. The 11 a.m. to noon hour is expected to draw the most visitors during the five-day Wall appearance, he said.

"Saturday and Sunday," Harding said, "we expect those to be the busiest days."

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