Preparing for The Wall: Volunteers, storytellers needed

Published 4:30 pm Friday, April 22, 2022

The first time I visited the Vietnam Wall in Washington, I was a high school student on one of those week-long, whirlwind learning trips to the nation’s Capitol. I did not understand all of the issues surrounding the war, but I did immediately understand the emotions of those who were moved to tears as they found the names of their loved ones on that stunning monument. All along the base, there were small American flags or single red roses left as remembrances.

On my second visit to The Wall, I helped my Vietnam veteran husband find the name of his tutor from St. Bernard’s College among the more than 58,000 there. Like many others visiting that day, we accepted a sheet of paper and a writing device, and did a rubbing of Tom Dowd’s name. Although the Wall had by then been in place for years, the reactions of many finding familiar names there was no less emotional.

These days, I am proudly working with both the City of Andalusia and the Covington Veterans Foundation to bring that experience to Andalusia, where we will host the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall this July, and we need your help.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is a three-fifth’s replica of the beautiful monument in Washington. It is 300-feet long, and six-feet high at its apex. The agreement requires us to provide 24/7 security and round-the-clock volunteers. But if you have ever worked with Mayor Earl Johnson or CVF founder John Vick, you already know they both live by the same creed: Go big or go home.

Our local event begins on Wednesday, July 27, when The Traveling Memorial Wall will be escorted into Andalusia to the City Hall campus. It is often escorted by law enforcement and veterans on motorcycles, as well as the Friends of Army Aviation, who provide air escort in a helicopter from the era. If you are your group are interested in participating, please let us know.

City crews will erect the monument near the Covington Veterans Monument that afternoon, and opening day is Thursday, July 28th. When we saw that this particular weekend was open, we chose it and extended its visit one day so that it could coincide with Thursday night’s July JAMZ outdoor concert. Look for a huge announcement about that week’s concert in the next few days.

The CVF also will erect its own memorial wall of sorts, with sketches of each of the Covington County natives who died in Vietnam. We also will publish a magazine with each of their stories. We need the help of their family and friends in telling those stories. They are:

  • James Aubrey Cauley, S. Sgt. (p) U.S. Army, born Oct. 31, 1941, died August 11, 1966. Burial was in Greenwood Memorial in Florala. Known surviving family includes his nephew, Michael Cauley.
  • Jimmy Earl Darby, PFC, U.S. Army, born August 21, 1948 or 1949, died July 10, 1967. Burial was in Peaceful Acres Memorial Gardens, Opp. Known surviving family includes his brother, Earl McCormick.
  • Ralph Gerald Dunn, Sgt., U.S. Army, born Oct. 27, 1947, died February 16, 1969. Burial was in Andalusia Memorial Cemetery. Known surviving family includes his brother, Benny Dunn.
  • Rodney John Evans, Sgt., U.S. Army, born July 17, 1948, died July 18, 1969. Burial was in Liberty Hill Church Cemetery. He is Covington County’s only Medal of Honor winner, and is survived by a niece and cousins.
  • Horace Gilbert Giddens Jr., WO1, U.S. Army, born Nov. 13, 1945, died Feb. 2, 1968. Burial was in Andalusia Memorial Cemetery. Known surviving family includes his sister, Merle Giddens Johnson, and nephew, Mark Johnson.
  • Ronald Gilmore, Sp 4/Sgt (p), U.S. Army, born June 25, 1948, died Nov. 27, 1967. Burial was in Memorial Park, Andalusia.
  • Michael David Gunnels, A1C, U.S. Air Force, born Dec. 15, 1946, died Sept. 26, 1969. Burial was in Memorial Park, Andalusia.
  • John Wayne Hudgens, Sp 4/Sgt, U.S. Army, born March 4, 1947, died May 18, 1967. Burial was in Brooklyn Cemetery, Coffee County.
  • Michael Wayne Jones, CPL, U.S. Marines, born Sept. 26, 1946, died Feb. 6, 1968. Burial was in Coldwater Cemetery. Known surviving family includes cousins Brenda and Reda Johns.
  • George Wallace Jones, PFC, U.S. Army, born Jan. 20, 1945, died Nov. 22, 1966. Burial was in Bethlehem Cemetery. Known surviving family includes his sister, Mattie Freeney.
  • Max Duane Kersey, SP4, U.S. Army, born Feb. 5, 1948, died Jan. 5, 1970. Burial was in Peaceful Acres Memorial Gardens (Opp).
  • Dewey Ray Owens, PFC, U.S. Army, born Jan. 10, 1948, died March 16, 1968. Burial was in Antioch Baptist. Known surviving family includes his brother, Robert Owens, and his sister, Carolyn Jane Owens.
  • Cecil Clayton Schofield, Sgt. 1st C., U.S. Army, born April 29, 1933, died May 23, 1970. Burial was in Paxton Cemetery.
  • Douglas Sidney Scroggins, PFC, U.S. Marines, born April 24, 1947, died August 18, 1968. Burial was at Harmony Baptist.
  • Henry Beal Smith, Jr., LCpl, U.S. Marines, born June 15, 1947, died August 31, 1968. Burial was in Andalusia Memorial.
  • James Steven Stanley, SP4, U.S. Army, born Dec. 26, 1947, died March 16, 1970. Burial was in Peaceful Acres Memorial Gardens (Opp). Known surviving family includes his cousin, James Steven Stanley II.
  • James Kenneth Sutton, Sgt. 1st C., U.S. Army, born July 26, 1941, died Feb. 25, 1969. Burial was at Bethany Baptist.
  • Travis Robert Sutton, SP4, U.S. Army, born August 13, 1946, died Dec. 24, 1967. Burial was at Oak Grove Baptist.
  • Thomas Daniel Patrick Jr., LCPL, U.S. Marines, born May 14, 1949, died May 31, 1969, Burial was Gate of Heaven Cemetery (Lewiston, Niagara County, NY). Known surviving family includes his brother, Tommy Straughn.

If you have stories of these soldiers, or can help connect us with their family members, please reach out to us.

In addition to documenting the stories of our own fallen soldiers, we also are busy working on the logistics of this project, including parking, shuttles, and building the infrastructure to make visits meaningful for all who come to our community for this event. But we know we need dozens of adult volunteers to assist visitors in finding names on the Travelling Memorial Vietnam Wall, as well as groups to provide and serve water to our guests.

If you or your group is interested in helping, please reach out to me via email michele.gerlach@cityofandalusia.com, or by phone at 334.488.5317; or contact Robert Evers at (robert@robertevers.com); Ben Bowden at benjamin.bowden@outlook.com; or John Vick at johnfayevick@yahoo.com.

Our hope is to be a part of the healing process for the many veterans and family members whose lives were affected by service in Vietnam, and we are honored to be of service to them. We know that our community honors and supports veterans, and we look forward to having you work alongside us in this endeavor.

Michele Gerlach is the communications director for the City of Andalusia and serves as the secretary of the Covington Veterans Foundation. She can be reached at michele.gerlach@cityofandalusia.com.