SIDNEY – Veterans, who were recognized Monday evening at the Shelby County Fair, heard about plans to honor their fellow service members who didn’t make it home.
Tilda Phlipot, the executive director of the Shelby County Historical Society, was the guest speaker Monday evening during the Fair’s Veterans Program. She urged the dozens of veterans in attendance to help any way possible when the Traveling Vietnam Wall Committee hosts a week-long event in September.
“As I watch my crew get older and older, I know it gets tougher and tougher for us to put on these kind of events,” Phlipot said. “And so I am going to beg all of you to please come and help us out.”
Sidney will host The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall – a three-fifths scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. – and a field of crosses from Sept. 12 to Sept. 19 at Custenborder Field.
The week will begin at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 with setting up flags and 1,000 wooden crosses.
The crosses will don dog tags with the names of 8,000 American service members who have died since the Vietnam War ended. The flags, meanwhile, will represent Shelby County service members who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
At 4 p.m. Sept. 12, the family of Lee Stephens will light an eternal flame that will stay lit throughout the week. Stephens was the lone Shelby County service member killed in action during the Gulf War.
The eternal flame will be extinguished as part of the closing ceremony at 2 p.m. Sept. 19 by the family of Charles Huston. He is the lone Shelby County service member still missing in action from the Vietnam War.
Throughout the entire week, someone will keep watch over the memorial 24 hours a day.
Also as part of the week, at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 15 a motorcycle escort will proceed from the Wapakoneta VFW to Custenborder Field to bring The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall to Sidney. In the past, the caravan has stretched more than 20 miles, Phlipot said.
The wall, which is almost 300 feet long and 6 feet tall at the center, will be put up starting at 7 a.m. Sept. 16.
Later that day, an opening ceremony will commence at 5:30 p.m. with special guest speaker Capt. Guy Gruters. He was a prisoner of war for five years during the Vietnam War and was in a cell next to Sen. John McCain.
“He has lived through unbelievable torture to come home and represent you,” Phlipot said of Gruters.
On Sept. 17, Col. David Taylor, an author who has written about his experiences during the Vietnam War, will be featured at 10 a.m. Then Col. Kathy Hayes, an Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame member, will speak at 11 a.m.
Students from Shelby County schools will be invited to see Taylor and Hayes on Sept. 17 and to explore the field of crosses, during which time they will be able to meet with more veterans.
At 7 p.m. Sept. 17, local band Outrider will perform a concert.
A cruise-in will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 18 in Tawawa Park. At 1 p.m. Sept. 18, a bench will be dedicated to former Traveling Vietnam Wall Committee member Jim Hall.
“When we started raising money for the first wall that I was in charge of, it wasn’t going very well,” said Phlipot, who has led the committee for 16 years. “And my board voted to cancel the wall. It was quickly that Jim Hall called a meeting and told me to get all the executive board around a table, which I did. And he laid his check book in the middle of the table, and he said, ‘Anything she can’t cover, I will cover.’ Luckily, he didn’t have to write a check for one penny.”
The week will end with the closing ceremony at 2 p.m. Sept. 19.
Also as part of Monday’s program, the Senior Center Singers performed a medley of patriotic songs including “America the Beautiful,” “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee),” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Let Freedom Ring.” They also sang the service songs for the branches of the military, during which veterans from the branches stood and were applauded.
“I want to thank all of you here in attendance that have served for your service,” Zack Bosslet, president of Veterans Services Commission, said. “It means a great deal to myself and I think everyone around us whether they’re in this tent or not, the people that are walking around enjoying the freedoms that they have today.”
Jerry Schmidt, a member of the Shelby County Fair Board, also thanked all the veterans in attendance.
“Thank you to my brothers and sisters in arms. Just remember the ones that are still fighting for us and the ones that are POW/MIA. May their souls rest in peace and be coming home soon, very soon; it’s went on way too long.”
Keeping the atmosphere light, Schmidt added, “Go Army. The reason why go Army is because even the Marines need heroes,” which drew laughter and applause from many of the attendees.
The evening then concluded with door prizes and a social hour.
Reach the writer at [email protected] or 937-538-4824.