Memorial wall coming to area
Efforts to bring the Vietnam Memorial Wall to our area next summer are under way, said Brad Hanson, outreach coordinator for veterans at Newport’s Hospitality House. Eight American Legion and VFW posts in North Idaho will be involved in raising money — $6,000 — to bring the wall from Michigan.
Hanson, a Vietnam-era veteran who lost many friends in the war, said Vietnam veterans “still carry the hurt. Bringing the wall here is important to a lot of them.”
The wall is composed of marble panels in an aluminum framework. It takes a full day to set it up, he said, and the Combat Veterans Association will escort the wall to the Newport Cemetery from Michigan.
It is three-fifths the size of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and at 385 x 65 feet, requires a large area. Hanson said the Newport Cemetery is perfect for the wall because there is room, and veterans dating back to the Civil War are buried there.
We’ve just started the effort to lock it in place, and we need to raise $2,500 by January, Hanson said.
The wall is slated for viewing in Newport, 29 miles from Sandpoint, from July 15 to July 20. Security personnel will be on site around the clock, and counselors will avail themselves, as well. “It’s pretty impactful,” Hanson said.
In conjunction, a stand down will take place “to provide all the services we can think of for vets who are struggling,” he said, including boots and sleeping bags and other surplus supplied directly from the Department of Defense.
Vietnam-era soldiers may be aging a bit, but their boots-on experiences in Nam are still keen.
Sandpoint High School graduate Delmar Wood, 73, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965, when he was 19, “so I wouldn’t get drafted by the Army,” he said. He thought the Air Force had better career opportunities.
Wood worked for one year with the 35th Combat Support Group on the Security Police Squadron in Phan Rang, Vietnam, a base for different branches, including the U.S. Army, an Australian combat group, and a Korean attachment. “I worked alongside criminal investigators and typed up incident reports,” which might seem a rather benign job, but it was not without its safety risks.
“The base was exposed to mortar and rocket attacks about once per month,” he said. One day he was walking out of the base post office and three rockets exploded nearby. “One was about 50 feet from me. I hit the ground. It was terrifying. It hit and killed two people, one was sitting, working at his desk,” he said.
Wood said he knew two of the Sandpoint guys who died in Vietnam. He went to school with them.
“I felt for the guys out there fighting — the Marines and the U.S. Army — because they were criticized when they came home, and I heard one guy say someone even spat on him,” he said.
Wood, who was discharged in 1973, believes the war started out with humanitarian intentions, “but when I look back, I think we never should have gotten involved. It was a lot of expense. A lot of lies. It was complex. You never knew who the enemy was,” he said.
Bruce Naffziger, who lives on a creek between Clark Fork and Sandpoint, saw combat in Vietnam, and he has experienced much in the way of internal and external hardship as a result of his time there.
Naffziger served in the Kon Tum Province in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, “in the heart of Agent Orange” with the U.S. Army aviation assault helicopters. Kon Tum shares its borders with Laos and Cambodia. He was part of a special operations group that dropped flares and had a machine gunner. “It was mainly taking people in and bringing them out, he said.
“We took Green Berets to Cambodia and Laos,” he said.
While in Nam, Naffziger suffered an injury to his foot. “I broke my ankle; bone fragments floated around,” he said. He underwent many surgeries but the pain was always excruciating. “I took pain pills 14 or 15 years, but it was only when they took my foot off that I stopped taking them because the pain had gone away.”
Naffziger lost a good friend, Robert Snyder, in Vietnam. He still sees a V.A. psychologist. “I saw some pretty horrible things,” he said, adding that coming back was a huge adjustment. He worked 80 hours per week to avoid thinking about Nam.
“I remember coming back here, dressed in my uniform. I took the bus from Spokane to Sandpoint and no one would pick me up. Some 150 cars went by before I was picked up and dropped off at a bar in Sunnyside. Then they drove me to my dad’s house. I will never forget that,” he said. He recalls going to Sandpoint Super Drug in a state of bewilderment. “Time goes into a different space when you are in a war zone,” he said. He saw an automatic door and noticed door knobs, and he had to sit down to think about it. “This was new, automatic doors. We didn’t have door knobs in the war, he said.
“It was 1971, a bad time. There were lots of protests and some people blamed the war on the warriors,” he said.
He went on to establish a drywall business, gained 160 pounds, had two heart attacks and a stroke, lost 160 pounds, and lost his only child, a Marine, to suicide.
He believes his Baha’ i’ religion has helped him keep going. At the heart of the teachings is the belief in one all-powerful God; a belief in a unified world order to ensure the success of all people, and in the equality of men and women, he explained. There are 12 adherents who meet regularly in Sandpoint, he said.
Naffziger served as state coordinator for the D.C. Vietnam Memorial.
“The war was a waste of young people, and Raytheon and General Electric killed off a bunch of farmers, he said, adding that a person was either destroyed by Vietnam or they got stronger because of it,” he said.
Donald Pemp, 85, of Post Falls and former pastor of the First Baptist Church in Bonners Ferry, had four short tours in Vietnam while living in the Philippine Islands with his family on Clark Air Force Base, which was later destroyed by a volcanic eruption.
“I was in Khe Sanh and Da Nang where I worked in refrigeration. I repaired the walk-in coolers and commercial cold storage units in dining halls. I cannot tell you some of the things they kept in those units. They didn’t give me a rifle because I had a tool box to carry, so I was given a .38 pistol, he said.
“I remember when a sergeant walked in that was our former neighbor at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, shocking both of us,” he said. Pemp lost his grandson, Jonathan Ry Pemp of Bonners Ferry due to PTSD after he served two tours in Iraq. Pemp is proud of his son, Rob Pemp, who was raised in Bonners Ferry and St. Maries, and now lives in Hayden, who joined the Air Force and recently retired after 21 years.
Reid Barr of Sandpoint, owner of Route 66 Autobody on Baldy Mountain Road, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the tail-end of Vietnam. “I graduated from high school early because I wanted the opportunity to experience different places in the world, as well as the healthcare the service provided,” he said.
Barr completed “a seven-year hitch,” he said. He belonged to a squadron that would load up dignitaries to get them out of harm’s way. He started off as a jet mechanic and then applied to become a flight mate. Barr has a drawing of the plane he piloted in the office of the body shop along with dozens of military patches his customers have given him to display. A blue U.S. Navy flag hangs over the window.
Primarily, Barr searched for submarines. “Vietnam didn’t have submarines, but Russia did, he said, adding that the hardest submarines to find were the U.S. subs.
“I have huge respect for the military. You learn about respect. You learn about hierarchy. You learn about accomplishing your goals. It is not a world of ‘me moments,’ he said.
“When you see the poverty of other countries, it changes you. Every kid should do two years in military, he said.
“I am proud to be an American,” he added.
Susan Drinkard can be reached at email@example.com.