-- — How fitting that the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who was the guest speaker at the Vietnam and Vietnam Era Veterans Tribute July 21 lives in Freedom, Ind.
About 60 flags and several Army vehicles lined the road leading to South Ripley High School. As the crowd of 300 streamed into the gym, members of Boy Scout Troop 607, Versailles, distributed miniature flags, which were waved throughout the very moving two-hour program.
Denis Schutte was waiting for the ceremony commemorating the war’s 50th anniversary to start. It was planned by the Ripley County Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Tribute committees.
The Batesville man served in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division 1965-66, missing the birth of a son. “It was an awful long year,” he recalled. His sergeant was killed just two weeks before he was supposed to be discharged and the specialist also lost 13, including close friends. Schutte still remembers the C-140 landing to take him home. “We had to run in the back end and away he went.”
Speaker Sammy Davis earned the prestigious medal for firing a howitzer repeatedly until the enemy retreated, then, after being injured, crossing a river on an air mattress to rescue three comrades.
“For me Vietnam was like a college. I learned about life. I learned about love … love you can have for a brother.”
He wrote his mother boring letters, not wanting to tell her about war’s horrors. She sent him a harmonica. He learned how to play
“Shenandoah” for his buddy John, who said it made his soul rest.
After John was killed in Vietnam, Davis arrived at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., at 2 a.m. before its dedication. “I went and talked to my guys,” then played “Shenandoah” for John.
“Today I’m going to play it for all the Vietnam veterans ... and all the family members who are here and lost brothers and sons.” After the mournful tune, the speaker saluted, earning one of his three standing ovations.
The sergeant’s message: “We the people have created memorials for all wars. “We’ve erected statues and hung plaques. It helps remind us of the cost of war. When we all come together … there’s nothing broken in this nation that we the people cannot repair.”
Attendees stood and clapped for James Logsdon, Attica, a Purple Heart recipient who was past national homeless veteran coordinator and now visits veterans recuperating in hospitals. “This is the real Lt. Dan,” said Davis, referring to the movie “Forrest Gump,” about Forrest’s friend who lost his legs during wartime service.
The gratitude was a decidedly different climate from the one Norris Keirn, Terre Haute, faced as a Marine – a Baby Killers sign. “That was our welcome home.” A decorated colonel was spit on in downtown Indianapolis. The American Legion state chaplain said, “We have worked very hard … with veterans’ organizations so that our children and grandchildren will never experience” that kind of homecoming.
About a dozen county veterans who were killed in action were memorialized. Davis gave each group of surviving relatives a lily, which they placed in a wreath of remembrance that was transported afterwards to the Vietnam Memorial replica on exhibit at Southeastern Career Center grounds.
Some of the fallen included John Jacobs, Millhousen, who attended Napoleon High School; and Harold Metcalf, Metamora, and Kenneth Luttel, Greensburg, who went to Batesville High School.
Carol Raver, Batesville, known as a girl as Ann, was there to honor her first husband, Mervin Richter, Sunman, of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, who started a Vietnam tour Feb. 28, 1969. “We were married six months,” she recalled. The ceremony “brought back lots of memories. What a sacrifice all the servicemen gave. He was only there 19 days” when Richter was killed at 21. Richter wrote to his bride and she wrote to him, but felt regret when her letters were returned unopened, arriving too late.
“He always was proud to wear the uniform and serve his country.”