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BY MARYANN GOGNIAT EIDEMILLER
For The Bulletin
Bill Jeffcoat of Plum is adviser to Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans, which purchases dogs that are trained at Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs in Florida. Jeffcoat served in the U.S. Marines and had a war dog who saved his life. On Wednesday, Jeffcoat helped to assemble the traveling wall. Photos by Rich DedoColton Oakes’ grandfather served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Cook during the war in Vietnam, but he seldom talked about his military experience. Of if he did, he focused on lighter things, not the combat that he saw.
“It wasn’t until I was a junior at Franklin Regional High School and learned about the war that I finally understood why he didn’t tell me a lot of stories,” Oakes said. “I learned that vets weren’t treated that well when they came back. They weren’t treated with parades, flags flying and a welcome home. They were drafted and ordered to go over and fight that war, and they were spit on and called names when they came home.”
Fred Menzl, president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Rolling Thunder, moves one of the panels to place in the wall.Oakes, now a senior, was one of several students who on Wednesday were at Murrysville Community Park documenting the installation of a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The replica will remain at the park through Sunday.
The wall is an educational and appreciation project of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a multi-division veteran owned and operated small business in Flint, Texas. The replica is 360 feet long and built at an 80 percent scale. Murrysville is the latest stop on its schedule of national tours.
“We arranged this through conversations we had with Pastor Dan Lawrence of Murrysville Alliance Church, who’s our municipal and police chaplain, and who’s a very active veteran in our community,” said Murrysville Recreation director Carly Green. “We’ve been planning this for quite a few years.”
Colton Oakes, a senior at Franklin Regional High School, is one of the students who took on a class project to produce a documentary about the Traveling Wall that came to Murrysville this week.Numerous businesses and individuals sponsored bringing the project to Murrysville, and volunteers came from near and far to help erect the wall. Local veterans groups and individuals are also participating in ceremonies and in being at the site that’s open round the clock.
The Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County volunteered for the installation and were part of the opening ceremony on Wednesday. President William Albright of South Huntingdon served in the U.S. Air Force and finished his tour in Da Nang. He has been to the memorial in Washington, D.C., nearly 30 times.
The Traveling Wall panels were removed from this truck and snapped together on site. The replica of the actual Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., will remain on display at Murrysville Community Park through Sunday.“This traveling wall is nice for those who can’t go to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “And I’m sure that a lot of our veterans are happy that it’s coming here. I’m sure it will be more traumatic for some. There are guys who are still suffering from PTSD.”
Bill Jeffcoat of Plum volunteered to be a “brother of the wall.”
“I will walk with a veteran if he wants someone to walk with him,” he said. “It’s pretty traumatic for some because of what they went through, and many like to visit the wall when there aren’t many people around. So we’re there for them as a brother to rely on.”
Jeffcoat is an to Life Changing Service Dogs For Veterans, a Pittsburgh area organization that was founded by brothers Don and Tony Accamando. They purchase dogs and have them trained at Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs in Florida.
The local group has purchased 22 dogs and raised $1.3 million to buy 60 more.
“I was a Marine Corps veteran and a dog handler in Vietnam,” Jeffcoat said. “Her name was Frauline and I would not be walking the earth if it wasn’t for her. She saved my life by detecting North Vietnamese soldiers who were waiting in ambush.”
Jeffcoat took off work to be spend a lot of time at the replica wall. He’ll talk about Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans, and about his own experience with his dog. A couple of veterans who received trained dogs will be present at different times on Thursday.
The Westmoreland Veterans are bringing a number of displays relevant to the service in Vietnam.
“I’ll have maps and some flags,” Rich Griser of Ligonier said. “Some charts will explain how they recover remains, and there will be information about the Department of POW-MIA Accounting Agency,” he said. “When Operation Homecoming started in 1971, there were 2,600-plus not accounted for. Now there are 1,594 still not accounted for.”
Fred Manzl of West Mifflin is president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Rolling Thunder, an advocacy group that calls for accountability of prisoners of war and those missing in action. There are 90 chapters and many of the members ride motorcycles. He volunteered to help erect the wall on Wednesday and will be at the site several times over the next few days.
“I’ll be there for anyone who wants to come to the wall and talk,” he said.
For years, Manzl has been wearing a bracelet with the name of a major who went missing.
“They don’t know if he’s dead or was captured,” he said. “They haven’t found him. When I go to the memorial in Washington, his name is way on top of one of the panels, so a park ranger gets an etching of his name for me, and checks to see if there’s any changes, if he’s been found.”
Oakes and the other students will be filming veterans and their stories for the documentary they’re making as a class assignment under teacher Becky Magness. It will be shown at the school’s closed television station and also entered into competition at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.
“The reason that I’m taking so much of this to heart is that we are losing the World War II generation and now we are starting to lose the next generation,” Oakes said. “We need to gather as many of these stories as we can. This documentary is giving them the respect that they deserve.”
A wreath laying service will be held at 6 p.m. today, Oct. 11. There will be a ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, and the Daughters of the American Revolution will lay wreaths at the wall at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13. The closing ceremony is at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, with speakers, benediction, Taps, bagpipes and the retiring of the colors. All of the ceremonies will include veteran and military groups.
Visitors can use a computerized directory to locate names on the wall and there will be materials available for etchings. The park is located at 4056 Wiestertown Road, Export.