05/24/09 — In their hearts, forever: Duplin dedicates new memorial to those lost in Vietnam

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In their hearts, forever: Duplin dedicates new memorial to those lost in Vietnam

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 24, 2009 2:00 AM

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From left, Edith Lucille Lewis Boney, Faye Casteen (Brown) Myers, Jessie Lou Pigford McKinney and Minnie Adell Whaley Turner unveil a monument dedicated to the 19 sons of Duplin County who never made it home from Vietnam, Friday outside the county courthouse. All four of the women lost sons in the war.

KENANSVILLE -- Jessie Lou Pigford McKinney spent the final hour of Friday morning sitting in a lawn chair under one of the trees that grace the Duplin County Courthouse lawn -- fighting off some tears, embracing others.

Her son, Dallas, was being honored a few feet away by keynote speakers and a crowd of 100 or more.

Only he wasn't there to see it.

And so she "sat there and cried for a while," closing her eyes to see the face of the child she lost "much too soon."

"He was such a good boy," she said. "He always helped me."

Dallas was one of 19 sons of Duplin County who never made it home from Vietnam.

So Friday, their stories were shared with those who showed up for the dedication of a monument constructed in their honor.

Arthur Best was among those memorialized.

But as his wife, Betty, assisted with the unveiling of the monument, she found the moment bittersweet.

"I was so proud, and I was so sad. It hurt," she said, putting a hand over her heart. "We had eight children. My last two don't remember him. Back then, like just now, I hurt but I had to be strong."

The unveiling of the en-graved granite stone wasn't the only emotional moment.

When county poet laureate Dr. Lynn Veach Sadler started reading "Setting Up a Night Defensive Perimeter," a poem she composed for the occasion, many in the audience wept.

It only took a few lines to make Donald Summerlin break down.

He was a combat medic in Vietnam and was friends with William "Guy" Turner, another son of Duplin killed there.

And so he sat in his chair until Sadler was finished with his face in his hands -- trying to conceal the tears rolling off his cheeks -- reliving all he and his friend experienced in the jungle.

"I got a letter from home that he had been killed," Summerlin said. "And when (Sadler was reading) it was almost like being right back there. So I'm very glad to be here, but I get real emotional about it."

Duplin Historical Society president Charles Ingram still gets emotional about it, too.

He was the one who planned and executed the event, and has been engrossed in those 19 stories for the last several years.

His effort started with a newspaper column -- a few words about patriotism followed by the names of the men then-believed to be the lone sons of Duplin who never made it home from Vietnam.

Ingram read it more than two years ago, and put it down with a sense of obligation to honor them.

So he started doing research, hours of reading and writing that led to the discovery of several others who had been forgotten.

His original plan was to host a small ceremony, to pass out a pamphlet with the names and hometowns of each man.

He ended up writing a 50-page book and hosting two events -- a three-hour tribute attended by 300 people in November and Friday's ceremony.

"It's indescribable," In-gram said Friday after the conclusion of the dedication, turning to look at the monument he -- and those who sent in donations -- made possible. "I'm so proud of that there. It has exceeded my expectations."

Gail Hargrove also is proud of the monument.

After all, her husband, Joseph's, name appears on it.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she said with a smile. "Now people will never forget."

She never has.

"You never get through it," she said. "It never dies."

The crowd began to dissipate shortly after noon, but thanks to Ingram, the names of the 19 sons of Duplin who lost their lives in Vietnam will forever stand on the courthouse lawn.

And knowing that fact made Mrs. McKinney somewhat emotional as she started to walk away from the site of the ceremony.

She looked at Ingram shaking hands with those making their exit and smiled.

His is now another name she vows never to forget.

"I just feel like giving that man a big to do," she said. "He has made my burden so much lighter."