“He was the empty seat at Thanksgiving” Wall That Heals-Vietnam Memorial-Honor, Gratitude, Emotion in Manchester, Connecticut
Posted on October 9, 2015
Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
“He was the empty seat at Thanksgiving, the stocking not hung at Christmas, the sibling missing from the photo, the birthday not celebrated. His death became the before and after in the timeline of our lives.” – Emile Miller
Speaking in a sometimes faltered, tearful voice, Emile Miller, the sister of Pvt Keith Alan Miller, U.S.M.C., shared those poignant words Thursday, October 8 during a Memorial Service to honor “The Wall That Heals”, a Vietnam Memorial visiting Manchester, Connecticut from Oct. 8-11. One of fourteen young men from Manchester killed during the war in Vietnam, the news of Keith’s death on September 7, 1967 changed their family forever and came when she was just nine years old, Emile Miller recalled. Delivered by a knock at the door the devastating news left her mother near collapse except for the aid of the men who came to tell the family of the loss.
“The sight of her being held up by two men haunts me today,” she said.
Miller and her brother, Col. Kipp Miller, were among a small number of family members of the fallen from Manchester who addressed a large crowd in Center Memorial Park on a sunny, autumn morning.
“The Wall That Heals” is a mini replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. Listed on the long, v-shaped, moving monument are the names of those who lost their lives during the war. The monument is meant too as a tribute to all those who served, as well as, those who remain missing. Mementos of respect and affection could be seen on the ground in front of some panels of names.
The turnout included old soldiers and many young, earnest faces there to learn about the unpopular war that divided the nation. Returning soldiers were disrespected, as keynote speaker, Vietnam veteran and former United States Congressman, Rob Simmons remembered.
“I returned to an America that had changed, no longer welcoming veterans back,” said Simmons, “I came back from that hellhole and was told to change into my civies (because) a divided America blamed veterans for the war.”
On this day in Manchester however noted Simmons, it was time to shout out – “My name is Rob Simmons and I’m proud to be a Vietnam veteran.”
Simmons, who attended Quaker College was drafted. Serving 19 months in the Army he received two Bronze Stars. He asked any of those in the audience who had also served in Vietnam to stand. The former congressman added that he continues traveling to Vietnam to learn more about the impact of Agent Orange, and in an effort to recover the remains of missing U.S. servicemen. In one case, he did so successfully earlier this year.
“When we bring ’em home, the family can heal,” said Simmons, speaking in a rousing tone.
“No generation of veterans should ever abandon another generation of veterans,” Simmons said.
Manchester Mayor Jay Moran quoted a line from the poem “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak” by Archibald MacLeish. The line which is engraved on the local Vietnam memorial on Main Street reads, “We were young, We have died. Remember us.”
Instrumental in bringing the wall to town, Bob Bycholski, former Manchester fire chief and chairman of “The Wall That Heals” committee also spoke. In the event program Bycholski wrote, “This year marks the 50th anniversary of America’s combat involvement in the Vietnam War. It’s also the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon which represents the end of the war for America. …. These are not anniversaries that are easy to celebrate. American society was torn apart over America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Many veterans continue to endure the sad anniversary of their return to the States where they did not get the respect they deserved and were treated harshly. Now is the chance for all communities to finally say to these brave men and women that returned: Welcome Home and Thank You for Your Service.”
Nate Agnostinelli acted as Master of Ceremonies and Sandra Lee sang the National Anthem. A member of Boy Scout Troop #25, the same troop that one of Manchester’s fallen in Vietnam had been part of, led the Pledge of Allegiance. As well, the Manchester High School Roundtable Singers performed “America the Beautiful” and the MHS Band and orchestra performed. The Antique Color Guard presented the flags.
Names of the 14 fallen from Manchester and two from nearby Bolton were read aloud. Dennis Nevin sang “Amazing Grace” and a POW/MIA reading was offered by Rev. Dana Lee Hallenbeck.
The fourteen from Manchester killed in Vietnam are Sgt. David Michael Quey – U.S.A., John Gerald Curtin – U.S.A., Pfc. Robert James White – U.S.M.C., Po3 Robert Arthur Rhuda – U.S.N., Pvt. Keith Allan Miller – U.S.M.C., Robert Kent Mattson – U.S.M.C., Donald A. Kirkham – U.S.N., Albert G. Christy, Jr. – U.S.A., Sp4 Donald Joseph Krajewski – U.S.A., Marshall H. McNamara -U.S.N., Lcpl Raymond Clark Holmes – U.S.M.C., Sp5 James Franklin Mott, Victor Del Greco, Jr. – U.S.A., Pfc Everett Edward Rines – U.S.A..
“The Wall That Heals” will be on display in Manchester, CT Center Memorial Park, Main Street until 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11. Visitors are welcome 24 hours daily; volunteers stay with the wall around the clock. A “Book of Names on the Wall” with their locations is available. The Wall pays “tribute to the 2.7 million men and women of the armed forces of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. The Memorial honors the more than 58,267 who gave their lives or who remain missing.”