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04/18/13 — 'He was there with me'

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'He was there with me'

By Kenneth Fine
Published in The Wall That Heals on April 18, 2013 2:01 PM

A young Marine matches his wife step for step as she walks along the replica constructed on a green nestled inside the Wayne Community College campus Wednesday afternoon.

It's been nearly 37 years since Joseph Hargrove was declared killed in action, but his greatest love, Gail, can feel him riding the back of the cool breeze stirring the flags that had, hours earlier, been lowered to half staff above The Wall That Heals.

"I really do feel him here," she says, crouching down and running her hand along his name -- one of the last etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "Yeah. He's here with us."

By sunset, it had happened.

The yearlong effort to bring a replica of "The Wall" to Goldsboro had culminated in a site worthy of the thousands expected to make their way there before Sunday's closing ceremony.

But the months of planning and fundraising it took to get it to Wayne County were only part of the story.

What had transpired during the hours after the monument departed South Boston, Va., was just as powerful, those who were a part of it said.

*

A retired Marine sheds tears as he and other local veterans participate in the procession leading the replica from the county line to WCC late Tuesday afternoon.

His young radio operator fell along the Demilitarized Zone in 1967, but Richard Strahl, he said, is "in that car with me."

Bill Carr can feel the young man by his side as the escort detail passes children waving American flags -- as men and women in uniform salute from intersections and roadsides.

"Richard was all Marine," his former lieutenant says. "He would be mighty proud of this."

By the end of its journey, the replica had been driven past more than 10,000 spectators -- including the 1,000-plus who lined Wayne Memorial Drive -- law enforcement officials said.

And when it finally arrived at the college, it was met by local students holding 145 flags -- one for each of the area men killed in the war, for whom the replica was created to honor.

Jack Kannan, the executive director of the Foundation of Wayne Community College, the group that, in many ways, madeThe Wall's stint in Goldsboro possible, said it was fitting that the image of those young men and women with those flags was the last members of the procession saw before they cut off their engines.

"That's the campus saying, 'We're proud to have the wall here,'" he said. "And we really are."

*

Dozens of men and women stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base slide pieces of the replica into place.

It has been less than 24 hours since the Wall That Heals arrived on that green, but their connection to those who fell decades ago is not lost on those who carry their legacy each time they don their nation's uniform.

Maj. Amber Millerchip and the members of the 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office under her command were among those who turned out.

"To have our hands on the panels, just the honor of it, was amazing," she said. "And at the same time, seeing all those names, it really hit home -- all the sacrifices.

"And for me, it's a very important opportunity to show them how important it was to honor our fallen -- to reinforce, in them, that we are comrades and that we have an opportunity to do this as a team. Everybody was excited to go, and we all got something out of it. It was a wonderful morning."

Allan Pederson, a member of the local USO, was moved by their participation.

"They said, 'If it wasn't for those folks, we wouldn't have a job,'" he said. "Isn't that something?"

Kannan agrees.

He has been "amazed," he said, by the many selfless acts he has witnessed in conjunction with the replica's trip to town.

From the churches that donated the sound equipment and the stage that was used in this morning's opening ceremony to the food provided for volunteers by the USO, everyone, it seems, has done their part, he said.

"It's great because we said, and we tried to say, 'If we get The Wall That Heals, we don't want it to be just about Vietnam veterans,'" Kannan said. "It's about all of us."

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