04/17/13 — A heroes' welcome

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A heroes' welcome

By Kenneth Fine
Published in The Wall That Heals on April 17, 2013 2:43 PM

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People waving American flags greet the Wall That Heals, left, as it arrives on Wayne Memorial Drive Tuesday afternoon. The wall was met at the Wayne County line by law enforcement officers and veterans and was escorted by hundreds of motorcycle riders. It will be on display at Wayne Community College starting Thursday 24 hours a day through Sunday.

Betty Franklin had tears in her eyes as she looked down Wayne Memorial Drive at the hundreds standing along the roadside waving undersized American flags and homemade signs.

It has been more than 40 years since her brother, Pfc. Joseph Grantham III, was killed in Vietnam and he was finally getting the homecoming she always thought he deserved.

"It can still be mighty raw at times," she said, choking up. "This is very moving."

Joseph's is one of the nearly 60,000 names that grace the Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- and the replica of the monument that is being constructed today at Wayne Community College.

So when The Wall That Heals made its way -- via a procession that included some 400 motorcycles and dozens of local law enforcement officials -- to the place it will spend the remainder of the week, the 1,000-plus who turned out to witness its arrival erupted with emotion.

Jean Jones was among the most animated.

She arrived along Wayne Memorial four hours before the procession passed her by -- and remained at her post long after.

"We're gonna be out here until they run us off this corner," she said, waving her flag at each car that passed. "Come on guys. Get in the mood. These boys died for you."

She knows, firsthand, about the sacrifices that were made by sons of Wayne in Vietnam.

Two of her best friends, Lance Cpl. Dan Jenkins and Spc. Donald Daniels, never returned from the war -- at least not the way those who loved them hoped they would.

"They were good boys. Good boys," she said, her voice trembling. "Both of them are in my heart. They are why I'm out here today. It's heartbreaking -- even still."

But not everyone in the crowd came to honor a loved one lost in a war that tore the nation apart nearly a half-century ago.

Susan Lewis brought her children, 9-year-old Will and 6-year-old Daniel, to teach them about the history of their country.

"It's hard, but that's something that I want them to know -- that freedom isn't free," she said. "That there are people who have died and paid the price for us."

And Kenneth Holland and his wife, Lisa, wanted to show their son that "there is more to the world than this little place around us."

Others came to honor those who have recently retired from the service.

Like Danna Brown, who pulled her children out of school so they could honor their father, Jeff, a retired Air Force colonel.

"Of course, all of the children have dealt with war," she said. "With their daddies being gone all the time."

Or Kim Tanner, whose three children held up signs and flags as the Wall -- and the escort detail that brought it from the county line to the college -- rumbled down the road.

"It's a good lesson," she said. "They fought for our freedom."

Just as her husband, Forrest, did before his retirement.

And there were even those who showed up to recognize those currently fighting in theaters across the world.

Ronda Hallenback was alongside three of her children -- 6-year-old Madi, 8-year-old Grace and 9-year-old Lauren -- to represent her husband, Jay.

"My husband is in Afghanistan right now ... and I want them to know the history of what people have gone through -- the sacrifices they have made," she said. "I want them to know the importance of this."

And Millie Swanson spent the better part of her afternoon walking up and down the street -- stopping and extending her hand each time she came across a man or woman in uniform.

"I just wanted to thank you for your service," she said to one airman stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. "God bless you for what you do. God bless you for keeping us free."

Ken Quakenbush pulled himself out of a lawn chair and waved a flag as the driver of a car that had just passed him by honked the horn and shouted.

It has been more than 40 years, but the Vietnam veteran won't soon forget the day a blast knocked him out of the war and sent him home with a Purple Heart -- how so many of his "brothers" in arms never made it home.

So he made the trip to Wayne Memorial Drive Monday to honor them, as he has "every single day" since he touched back down on American soil.

"It's tough -- real tough," he said. "You never forget. No, you never do forget."