Vietnam veterans ‘welcomed home’ with traveling memorial wall

The memorial wall has the names of 1,108 Kentucky veterans who died in Vietnam.
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 6:19 PM EDT
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VANCEBURG, Ky. (WSAZ) - Since 2017, a wall containing the names of all the Kentuckians who died in the Vietnam War has traveled across the state each summer.

“It means a lot to me that they’re getting recognition and they deserve recognition more than we do, the ones that made it home, I think,” said Kermit Jordan, a Vietnam veteran from Lewis County.

For those veterans, it’s a welcome home they never received.

“World War II people came home heroes. The Vietnam guys were spat on. It’s tough. They didn’t come back to what they should have,” said Vanceburg Mayor Dane Blankenship.

Lewis Countians lined the streets Friday, as the Traveling Kentucky Vietnam Wall entered Vanceburg with an escort. Fourteen of the men listed on the wall are from Lewis County.

“I don’t know, it just does something to your heart if you’re patriotic like I am,” said Jordan, who has friends listed on the wall.

There are 1,108 names engraved on the memorial. They include all the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans who were killed in combat, held as prisoners of war and those still missing in action.

“I’m honored to stand here today and give them the praise I can do. They paid a great price for us ,” said Thomas Sparks who watched the parade.

Jack Mattingly and his wife are the ones who started the wall. Mattingly, who’s a Vietnam veteran, said soldiers would ask him to tell their families they loved them.

“I held their hands and talked to them, but I didn’t know how to do that because I didn’t know who they were,” Mattingly said.

When he came home from war, he spent decades suppressing the memories and hid the fact he was a Vietnam veteran, but in 2009 he saw a traveling memorial wall for all Americans, and he knew what he needed to do.

“When I went down there I broke. Broke bad,” he said. “I feel like I owe this 1,108 to be known across Kentucky.”

Every weekend in the summer months, Mattingly travels across the state, setting up the wall with his wife to accomplish what he promised the soldiers decades ago, tell the families they loved them.

“This is also these guys welcome home because we as Vietnam veterans we didn’t receive a welcome home,” Mattingly said.

He says it’s also a place for families and veterans to heal.

“There’s some here that I spoke to that would never speak about it, and today they have. It’s sort of, maybe a healing process for them,” Blankenship said.

The wall provides resources and connects other veterans and families to valuable information.

An event to honor veterans at the wall will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in Vanceburg on Front Street. This is a part of the town’s May Day celebrations.

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