MONTROSE - About 300 yards down a Montrose street lined with waving American flags, a woman stands in front of a black metallic monument, gently touching the letters that spell out the name of a lost relative. She brings her right index finger to her mouth and places that kiss on the wall, uttering "I love you" from beneath a soggy handkerchief. She walks away from the Wall That Heals giving neither her name nor giving up the memory of the dead soldier she came to remember.
The scene, played out under a hot summer sun, was similar to dozens of others this past weekend, as the "Wall That Heals" -- a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington D.C. -- was on display in Cerise Park during Fourth-of-July festivities.
The wall is funded by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a D.C. based organization that both sponsors the traveling replica and manages the original memorial created on the national mall in the 1980s.
According to the United States Department of Defense there are 1,645 members of the armed forces from the Vietnam War, who remain unaccounted for or "missing in action."
Last year the remains of an airman who was shot down during a mission in 1967 were returned to Montrose and to the last remaining members of his family. He was buried in Cedar Cemetery in Montrose in 2012.
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Robert "Woody" Bennett’s closest surviving family member is retired Marine Maj. William Bennett of Montrose. Last Thursday, Bennett along with his wife Janet, accepted a flag in Robert's memory during opening ceremonies for the wall's Montrose exhibition.
"Almost a year ago with the aid of this splendid community 1st Lt. Robert ‘Woody’ Bennett of the United State Air Force was returned to his country to be laid to rest here in Montrose," Bennett said during his remarks. "Much has changed in his 44 years of being lost in Vietnam, almost his entire family had passed, there are only five of us left. But Montrose welcomed him home to her bosom guaranteeing him eternal rest among friends and patriotic Americans. I personally thank you all for that, I thank the entire country, the Air Force for bringing him home. Thank you and may god bless you all … Amen.”
Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap, also a Veteran of Vietnam, joined city councilwoman Carol McDermott to present the Bennetts with the flag.
"I consider this, one of the biggest honors," Dunlap told the crowd, fighting back emotion.
The young lieutenant who was returned to his country after decades stands in sharp contrast to the thousands still missing. The Pentagon's effort to return the missing drew recent fire from an investigation by the Associated Press, which reported that an internal study by the military revealed the program tasked to identify and return the those still missing was "mismanaged and wasteful" and risks descending from "dysfunction to total failure."
The same report said there are currently 83,348 missing since WWII. There are 73,661 still missing from the second world war, 7,910 from the Korean War, 1,645 from Vietnam and 132 listed as "other conflicts."
Montrose residents Gary and Nancy Johnson left a tribute at the wall for James "Kelly" Patterson who was reported missing on May 16, 1967. The letter and pictures of Kelly joined dozens of other offerings, including the donations of several military medals.
One tribute consisting of a can of peaches and a tin of pound cake was laid out for Robert Lisko, a "well liked" soldier who was "always easy going and laid back."
The peaches and pound cake symbolized a dessert often served to soldiers during the war.
Charles Morton of Tulsa, Okla., rode his Harley Davidson to Montrose to find the name of his best friends' brother, Robert Davis, who was killed in 1966 when Morton was just 16-years-old.
Morton searched for about 15 minutes until he found Davis's name about half way down one of the panels.
"To me it (the wall) represents the senseless lives that we lost, you know, for no reason," Morton said.
Montrose resident Richard Crabtree, who served as a Navy Corpsman Third Class with the Marine Fleet Force as a combat medic, said he came to see the wall to find the names of the men he lost, some of whom died in his arms.
He said he was able to "work out" some of the issues he's had to deal with since his time in combat, the power of the wall evident in his face.
Montrose first hosted a replica of the wall in 2009. This year the Montrose Community Foundation lead the local effort to host a second visit of a replica.
During the opening ceremonies veterans of the Vietnam war were applauded, something most of which never had received when they first returned from the war.
According to the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center, the tribute was aimed to give local Vietnam veterans "the homecoming they never received."
The Education Center at the Wall is soliciting a nationwide call for pictures of each of the 58,000 service members listed on the wall. Family members, friends, neighbors and fellow service members are invited to contribute photos. For instructions on donating pictures visit Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website at vvmf.org.
LOCAL NAMES ON THE WALL
Thomas O. Ahlberg: Montrose
Adam D. Ballard: Olathe
John A. Berry: Naturita
George A. Clark: Nucla
Raymond L. Hopkins: Naturita
Harry Jones: Naturita
William H. Laurence Jr. : Montrose
Robert J. Rosar: Montrose
Allen D. Scoggins: Nucla
Troy White: Nucla
Walter E. Wright: Montrose
Robert L. Dickson: Ridgway
David M. Hollingsworth: Ouray
San Miguel County:
Paul L. Haining: Placerville
Leroy Melvon Donovan: Cedaredge
Amie Jacob Duran: Delta
George Ray Fricklin: Delta
Victor Haglund: Crawford
William T. LaField: Eckert
Gregory Rouse: Hotchkiss
Thomas L. Brown: Gunnison
F. Scot Crismon: Gunnison
William R. Romack: Gunnison
John R. Sievers: Gunnison