The 10 Highland County soldiers killed in the Vietnam War were remembered at the Highland County Veterans Memorial in Hillsboro in a ceremony Friday “to ensure the sacrifices of the nine million heroes who served during this difficult chapter of our country’s history are remembered for generations to come.”
“These boys went over there when they were asked,” Gerold Wilkin of the Highland County Veterans Honor Guard said to the crowd of nearly 100 people. “And most of them were drafted to start with.”
Flags flew at half-staff during the proceedings that started at noon Friday, designated by President Trump as National Vietnam War Veterans Day in a bill signed into law two years ago.
Wilkin said that the names of two other soldiers not on the memorial would be engraved on it, those being PFC David McConnaughey, who is listed with a military home of record in Lebanon in Warren County, but who was actually from Hillsboro; and Cpl. James Waulk Jr., who is originally from the Greenfield/Rainsboro area, but whose military home of record is listed as Washington C.H., due to the fact that was he and his wife were living there when he enlisted.
The Highland County commissioners issued a special proclamation for what President Jeff Duncan called National Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, recognizing by name the 10 soldiers that included McConnaughey and Waulk, who were the first and last soldiers from Highland County, respectively, to die in the war in Southeast Asia.
Keynote speaker for the ceremony was Shirley Wilkin, who shared with the crowd memories of her younger brother, Army PFC Mark Hook, who was killed by friendly fire in South Vietnam on Aug. 28, 1968 after only being in-country a little over one month.
“Mom got a knock on the door and she opened it to see two servicemen in uniform,” Wilkin remembered. “They had a telegram and a letter about Mark’s death, and needless to say, our lives were changed forever.”
Vietnam veteran Col. Ronald Sampson (U.S.A.F./Ret.) said that designating a Vietnam War Veteran’s Day is a reflection that the nation “realizes and recognizes that they didn’t do right by those that answered the call and fought a war that was unpopular, but they did their duty and didn’t get much of a welcome home.”
Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, who at 65 years of age vividly remembers the war in Vietnam, said that Friday’s ceremony was both a proud time and a sad time.
“I had friends over there, and I was really glad to see them honored,” he said. “President Trump made an official proclamation of this nationally, and I’m so proud of Highland County turning out to support their veterans, and it’s very impressive.”
The ceremony ended with the time-honored 21-gun salute followed by Wilkin taking up the bugle for the playing of “Taps.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.