The ‘road home’ for some Vietnam veterans

JOYCE ­­— Dedicating a stretch of state Highway 112, which runs through Joyce, to Vietnam War veterans will help them make peace with that tumultuous era, area veterans said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Crescent Grange on Saturday.

“I left Vietnam, but it never left me,” Bill Minor, Clallam County Veterans Association president and Vietnam veteran, told the audience of Vietnam War and Korean War veterans.

The Vietnam War Veterans Memorial Highway consists of Highway 112 between its junctions with U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 113.

Nine service members from Clallam County, six from Jefferson County and 1,100 from throughout the state died in the Vietnam War.

Portions of state highways 112 and 113 near Sappho were dedicated as the Korean War Veterans Blue Star Memorial Highway on Sept. 6.

Minor said Saturday’s dedication is a step toward reconciliation with the mistreatment inflicted on many veterans when they came home from Vietnam.

“We have 200 homeless vets in the woods on perpetual patrol,” Minor said, adding he hopes they can use the memorial highway as a “road home.”

Minor compared the newly dedicated highway to the experience of many Vietnam veterans.

“The road has its ups and downs like Vietnam,” he said.

“At times it is turning back on itself like it’s searching for something. But it doesn’t know what it is.”

Minor also said that the road’s view of Vancouver Island is a reminder of those who crossed the international border into Canada to avoid the draft.

Those who avoided the draft, he said, contributed to the misunderstanding of those who fought.

“A lot of us didn’t want to go to Vietnam,” Minor said.

“But, by God, we did.”

At the dedication ceremony, the veterans honored one of their own.

John Lee, state Department of Veterans Affairs director, and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, pinned two miniature medals on the gray jacket of Vietnam veteran George Aims, who said his uniform and medals were stolen more than 20 years ago.

The miniature medals represented the Vietnam Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal Aims had received.

“I suppose it makes me happy,” said Aimes solemnly after the ceremony.

Aimes is still angry with Vietnam War protesters and the government. He said he feels betrayed.

“These are the people that I have anything in common with,” he said, referring to other veterans.

Hargrove, who represents the 24th District that covers Clallam, Jefferson and a portion of Grays Harbor counties, sponsored the bill that authorized the memorial highway.

“I hope it will do a bit to close that gap and do a bit of the healing,” he said.

Clallam County commissioner Mike Doherty congratulated the veterans on behalf of the three commissioners.

Lee read a letter from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s husband, Mike, who like Lee, is a Vietnam veteran.

The letter said, “The Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Highway we dedicate today will stand as a tribute to these heroes, our Vietnam veterans, to their lives, families, and legacy. Their sacrifices during the Vietnam War must never be forgotten.”

Korean War memorial

The memorial highway dedications began with Gerald Rettela, Korean War Veterans Association Olympic Peninsula Chapter president, who said he discovered that the only reference to Korean War veterans in Clallam County was on a tombstone at Veterans Memorial Park on Lincoln Street in Port Angeles.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be unique if we gave these soldiers more recognition?’” he said.

With that in mind, he wrote a bill for the state House of Representatives to dedicate the Korean War veterans’ highway, which was sponsored by state Rep. Lynn Kessler D-Hoquiam, and passed in 2006.

A similar bill, sponsored by Hargrove, authorized the Vietnam highway dedication in spring 2007.

Rettela said the highways are a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by veterans and an educational tool to the youth, “who were never exposed to the wars.”

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Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or [email protected]

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