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Amid salutes and tears

Moving Wall memorial officially opens in Craig

Collin Smith

— Charley Watkins, Veterans of Foreign Wars District 9 commander, was not alone with his memories at Saturday’s official opening of the Moving Wall, a traveling Vietnam veterans memorial.

“I have many friends whose names are on this wall,” Watkins said, “and I tell you without reservation that they were great soldiers. They were very dedicated, and they fought with the greatest of heroism.”

He was joined at the podium by other men who served overseas: Gary Hinaman of Rangely, who served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971; Robert Woods of Craig, who is the pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ; and State Sen. Jack Taylor, who served in between Korea and Vietnam.

Hinaman spoke candidly about his tour in Vietnam. He shared good feelings and bad ones, and talked about a personal healing.

While visiting the original memorial in Washington, D.C., he decided to share his past with his family.

“In the heat of battle, I have made some very good decisions and some not so good,” Hinaman said. “I’ve found it necessary to forgive myself for those mistakes in order to be home with my family rather than stuck in the past.”

The veterans on stage were joined by veterans from near and far, some of whom made up the color guard that raised the U.S. and POW/MIA flags, and some of whom were simply in attendance.

Paige Lanier of Colorado Springs served from 1966 to 1967 in Vietnam and from 1970 to 1971 in Korea. He was grateful for the way America’s youth have embraced Vietnam veterans.

“Young people have changed,” Lanier said. “I’ve been to the wall a couple times, and the way they like to stop, and they’ll ask a couple questions and just listen, it’s heartwarming.”

Larry Neu of Craig served two tours in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970. He has visited a lot of his friends on the wall.

“For two of (my former classmates), I cut out pictures from my yearbook and put them up next to their names,” Neu said. “These are real people, they deserve more than just a name on that wall.”

Before his tours overseas, Neu thought a lot about becoming a doctor, and he served as a field medic in addition to being an infantry rifleman.

“But I saw so much over there,” he said. “I didn’t want to see anymore.”

Nearly 300 visitors joined the veterans. Many of them stayed long after a lone bugle played Taps and bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.”

The song, played amid salutes and tears, closed the ceremony.

Having driven from Steamboat Springs, Gail Jones, 57, was determined if not prepared to see her friends’ names on the wall. She wept behind sunglasses, staring at the reflective black panels.

“I found them,” she said.

Watkins was thankful for the “tremendous turnout,” he said.

He was grateful for the support from the Moving Wall steering committee and the community at large.

“This week,” Watkins said, “it is our opportunity in northwest Colorado to pay a special tribute of respect to those American heroes who have sacrificed their lives in Vietnam in the struggle for freedom.”


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