I recently saw “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” and as a person who bore witness to much of the history that is depicted in that film, I was touched deeply. Racial injustice, presidential missteps, and the Vietnam War were subjects explored in the film.
A week before when I was at the monthly coffee of the Miami Valley Veterans Museum, 20-year Army veteran Master Sgt. Ken Williamson asked me if I had ever visited the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort. When I said no, he opened his notebook, pulled out a photocopy of the memorial and began to describe it.
The award-winning memorial honors the 125, 000 Kentuckians who served during that era and the 1,103 Kentucky soldiers who died. According to the web site, this memorial “is one of the largest granite memorials in the nation and contains 327 cut-stone panels weighing more than 215 tons.” With lettering that is the same as that used at Arlington National Cemetery, what is fascinating to me, as well as to Williamson, is that the monument’s main feature is a sundial with a stainless steel pointer which casts a shadow on the day of the death on the granite plaques on which the solders’ names are engraved.
The names of the Kentucky fallen go from A to Z with U. S. Army Capt. Charles Seaborn Abel (born 03/04/38, died 09/13/66) heading the list to U.S. Army Specialist 4 Marion Zipp (born 01/29/46, died 08/12/69).
We grieve over every single one of these soldiers and ask ourselves those age-old questions: Why this man and not another? Were they drafted because they didn’t have the money to get a deferment by attending college? Did they flunk out of college? Were they not aware that joining the National Guard would protect them from being sent to Southeast Asia? Were they career soldiers? Did some go because of a loyalty to and love of country, a country that at times did not treat them well? How many thought about fleeing to Canada? Were there societal pressure to serve?
Whatever the circumstances, the reasons, this memorial is about fathers and sons and husbands and brothers, those who never had the chance to grow old, those whose portraits are in our scrapbooks or on the mantles of our homes.
Those who went to Vietnam were a young group with sources disputing the average age. We know, however, that they were young. As I scanned the list, I noted the men who died in that war from Harlan and Bell counties: from 18-year-old U.S. Army Specialist 4 Terry Wayne Holmes to 44-year-old U.S. Marine Master Sergeant James Gordon Farmer, both of whom died in 1967.
Engraved at that monument are the names of the fallen from Harlan and Bell counties who gave their all with the month and year of their deaths:
USA Private First Class Arnold Lee Brock…04/22/67 (Bell)
USA Specialist 4 Benjamin Brothers…06/20/67 (Harlan)
USA Private First Class Theodore Brown…08/28/67 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 5 Ernest Ray Carr…08/31/68 (Harlan)
USA Staff Sergeant Robert Lee Collett…05/01/70 (Harlan)
USA Sergeant Jackie Coots…06/26/69 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 4 Gregory Douglas Cornett…05/18/69 (Harlan)
USA Staff Sergeant Marcus Raymond Davis… 04/04/70 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 4 Raymond Doss…10/29/66 (Harlan)
USMC Master Sergeant James Gordon Farmer …10/09/67 (Harlan)
USA Private First Class James Murphy Furgerson…03/29/70 (Harlan)
USMC Corporal Lorenza Gayles…09/03/66 (Bell)
USMC Private First Class Kenneth Ward Harris…11/09/67 (Harlan)
USMC Sergeant Bobby Ray Hatfield…02/19/68 (Bell)
USAF Senior Master Sergeant Ronnie Hensley…04/22/70 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 4 Terry Wayne Holmes…12/30/67 (Harlan)
USA Sergeant Henry Jackson…08/28/70 (Bell)
USAF Staff Sergeant George H. Kirby…04/27/65 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 5 Thomas Junior Lawson…04/18/68 (Bell)
USA Private First Class Victor Lane Mills …04/18/69 Harlan)
USA Chief Warrant Officer James Allen Miner…02/23/71 (Bell)
USA Private First Class James Miracle…04/03/68 (Bell)
USA Private First Class Carlos David Moore…07/27/66 (Harlan)
USA Corporal George Herbert Noe…05/26/69 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 4 Wince Isaac Overton…03/20/68 (Bell)
USA Specialist 4 Claude Perry…09/14/68 (Harlan)
USA Private First Class Ronnie Ray Pittman…03/9/67 (Bell)
USA Staff Sergeant James Elmer Pruitt…09/27/65 Harlan)
USMC Corporal Thomas Glen Richmond…09/10/66 (Bell)
USMC Lance Corporal Jimmie Henry Rowlett…09/18/66 (Bell)
USMC Lance Corporal Danny Roy Simpson…07/07/66 (Bell)
USA Specialist 5 Samuel Oliver Small…08/30/71 (Harlan)
USA Sergeant Harold Sullivan…02/20/69 (Bell)
USMC Corporal Lee Roy Taylor…07/29/67 (Harlan)
USMC Private First Class Alonzo Allen Teague…10/22/66 (Bell)
USA Sergeant George Thompson…03/25/71 (Harlan)
USA Sergeant First Class Dan Wagner…12/15/67 (Bell)
USMC Lance Corporal Charles Edward Ward…05/28/68 (Bell)
USMC Private First Class Homer West…01/30/69 (Bell)
USA Private First Class Alfred Evarts Whitehead…06/16/68 (Harlan)
USA Specialist 4 John Curtis Williams…12/04/66…(Harlan)
So today, I want to thank these men who paid the ultimate price. I’ll visit this memorial on my next trip to Frankfort, and the next time I’m at the Wall in D.C., I will be looking for their names. I will be whispering, “Thank you for your service. May you rest in peace.”
Photographs were provided by Lon Whitson and the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial. With your cooperation, I want to expand on this article for a Kentucky magazine. If you have photos and/or stories to share with me about these soldiers, please forward them to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos can be scanned into a computer and those images forwarded to me. If you don’t know how to do this, go to your local library, and the staff can do it for you and immediately hand the photos back to you.