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NEWS | Sept. 6, 2013

Kentuckians honor the cost of freedom on Labor Day weekend

By Sgt. Paul Glover Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office

 “There’s guys on the Wall that I pulled in,” recalled Jack Mattingly on Aug. 31, 2013. Mattingly is a 63-year-old Vietnam Veteran who served from 1970 to 1971 as a helicopter door gunner in the Marine Corps. “I don’t know their names, but I know they’re on the Wall,” he added.

“I’ve asked myself several times, ‘why are they on the Wall and I’m not?’ And I figured this was the reason why—that I’m here to put this on for them.”

Mattingly and his wife , both longtime residents of Harrodsburg, Ky., decided to begin a massive undertaking to bring the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall to Harrodsburg after seeing the Wall years earlier. The effort, which culminated in a holiday weekend from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2, 2013 that teemed with emotional tributes to American heroes, involved numerous dedicated local volunteers and generous donors.

“When I went down to London, Ky. back in 2010, they had the Wall down there,” Mattingly recalled. “I walked up to the Wall, and…well, I’m a Marine, we don’t cry– we’re hardcore and everything…and I walked up to the Wall, and the Wall reached out and touched me. I broke. That’s when I said I had to bring in here.”

“It’s just a really meaningful weekend to a lot of people,” Mattingly explained. “I got up last night, about 3:30 (a.m.) and just looked out to see if there was anybody here. And there were several people just sitting on the benches, looking at the Wall.”

“That’s usually when you have most of your Vietnam veterans come that just have a hard time with it anyway,” he observed.

Over the 2013 Labor Day weekend, thousands of central Kentuckians came to pay tribute to not just those who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War, but also those who died defending freedom in various other conflicts throughout America’s existence.

Soldiers from across the Harrodsburg-based 103rd Brigade Support Battalion, 138th Fires Brigade volunteered to assist in the task of honoring the sacrifice of the heroes that came before.

Pvt. 1st Class Dakota Hawkins, a 19-year-old Harrodsburg, Ky. native who serves as a radio operator in Frankfort’s Bravo Co. 103rd BSB was among those volunteers.

“It’s just such an amazing honor to be here, be part of this,” Hawkins said. “The (Traveling Memorial) Wall coming into Harrodsburg, we’ve had a huge turnout for that…there’s a lot of military support here in town.”

“You meet a lot of great people, a lot of people who served—and being able to see the Wall in person, it’s amazing,” Hawkins said of his time volunteering. “It’s an entirely new experience.”

“You come across people in the Airport who say ‘thank you for your service, thank you for your support.’ But being in a big open field (full) of people who think so highly of you (means a lot)…even though you really haven’t done anything compared to the people whose names are up on the Wall,” Hawkins added.

Of the experience, Hawkins offered one emotion that would remain with him over time.

“Seeing the elementary (school) kids kind of look at us in awe, the ones in uniform and just single us out as heroes at such a young age, it’s an incredible feeling,” he said. “It reminds me that there’s always so many people behind us supporting us that think everything of us, of what we do.”

Col. Brian F. Wertzler, Commander of the Lexington, Ky. based 138th Fires Brigade, showed his support for his Soldiers and the Traveling Memorial Wall’s stay in Harrodsburg during a visit on the afternoon of August 31.

“I know that it’s a special weekend for the community of Harrodsburg and the Traveling Wall,” Wertzler said. “Obviously, they’re very proud.”

“They have a long heritage and lineage of service in this community,” he added. “They’re certainly very patriotic, and it absolutely shows in what they’ve provided in terms of support and community participation in this event.”

Wertzler offered his own perspective on the Memorial Wall coming to Central Kentucky and his Brigade’s role in honoring Veterans.

“I think it’s special. It gives us an opportunity to remember the Soldiers that have served,” he stated. “Part of the Wall display, it’s very different than what I’ve seen before. It encompasses previous wars, not just the (Vietnam) Wall. And I think it’s important that we remember the past, and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

“All of the Soldiers that are serving do it out of a sense of patriotism, and we all know that we could provide the ultimate sacrifice in the execution of our duties,” Wertzler noted.

“I’m proud that the 138th Fires Brigade and the 103rd BSB can assist in honoring the Soldiers that have provided the ultimate sacrifice before us and that we can support the ceremonies.”

On Saturday, local officials also unveiled a sign which will rename the U.S. 127 bypass in Mercer County as the Bataan Corregidor Memorial Highway. The motion recently passed by the Kentucky General Assembly renamed the road to honor the Soldiers of the 38th Tank Company, Harrodsburg Tankers, a Kentucky National Guard unit activated during World War II who endured the Bataan Death March in the South Pacific. Only 37 of the original 66 Guardsmen survived Japanese captivity.

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