“I Fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I love my country for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom and justice and goodness of its people. I love it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my Country’s.” ~ John McCain, POW
There was a threat of hard rain during the noontime welcome ceremonies for The Wall That Heals at Marco’s Veterans Community Park. The crowd was quiet and solemn as they listened to emcee Keith Dameron introduce Pastor Thomas McCulley of the New Life Community Church for the Opening Prayer.
The crowd stood and remained standing for the Lely High School ROTC Color Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance by the Jennings Family and the National Anthem sang by Natalie Gonzalez and Laura Seipert, music therapists with Naples Avow. The roar of a North American T-28C aircraft broke through with a flyover by Mick Thorstenson
The POW/MIA ceremony was performed by Sargeant at Arms Harry Weathers, and Bill Horton, the Past Commander of both the American Legion Post #404. Tim Tetz, Director of Outreach for the Vietnam Memorial Fund, was introduced. Tim has assisted more than 300,000 visitors to The Wall That Heals in 34 communities in 2019.
Charles “Doug” Hartman introduced the first keynote speaker, retired Army Major General James Dozier. Major General Dozier is an international terrorism expert who served 35 years in the Army from 1950 to 1985. He was stationed in Italy in 1981 when he was kidnapped at gunpoint and held by terrorists of the Red Brigades who were known to kill high–value captives. He was rescued by a Special Operations Unit of the Italian police after 42 days of interrogation and torture.
Lee Rubenstein, Commander of American Legion Post #404, introduced the second keynote speaker, Captain Wayne O. Smith. Captain Smith flew 90 air combat missions over Vietnam before being shot down and taken prisoner on January 18th, 1968. He was a captive for over five harrowing years in the notorious prison camp known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” He was among 108 prisoners who were freed on March 14th, 1973, during “Operation Homecoming.”
Visiting The Wall That Heals, Jim Lane of Marco Island found members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. Their names were inscribed on Panel E-3 which contains the names of soldiers killed in combat in the Ia Drang Valley (pronounce Eye). The Battle of Ia Drang Valley was fought between November 14 and 17, 1965. When it was over, it had claimed over 234 American lives.
Jim traced the names of Lt. Don Cornett, from Louisiana who was killed with 155 others on November 17th, 1965. He also found 2nd Lt. Jack Geoghegan who, on the morning of November 1965, was killed in an attempt to rescue his wounded trooper, Willie Godboldt. Geoghegan left behind his parents, a wife and a 6-month old daughter. The name of PFC Willie Godboldt from Jacksonville, Florida is also in Panel E-3.
Second Lieutenant Jim Lane was assigned to B Company, Second Battalion, 7th Cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore. This battle was fictionalized by the Mel Gibson movie, “We Were Soldiers.”
Lt. James Lane was 23 years old, a platoon leader of Bravo Company, when on November 16th, a hand grenade was thrown into his command post, killing his platoon sergeant and wounding him severely in both legs. Lt. James Lane was in Ia Drang for only 3 days. Jim Lane remarked, “You don’t forget things like that.”
Jim was carried off the battlefield and spent 10 months in a hospital. He recalls with sorrow that if he had not been wounded, he would have been with his original company where many of them were killed and his name would likely be on The Wall. Survivor’s guilt is a common feeling for many soldiers who made is back.
On his closing remarks, emcee Keith Dameron, stated that “It is never too late to show respect for the service and sacrifice of our veterans.” On February 23rd, Sunday afternoon, The Wall That Heals left Marco Island bound for its second destination—Garland, Texas.