LISBON - Butch Hardy and Tom Moore remember coming home after serving in the Vietnam War, and it was not pretty.
Protesters in the California airport where Hardy landed treated the soldiers with disrespect. As shouts of "baby killers" echoed through the crowd, one person went so far as to spit on Hardy's uniform. He was carrying two bags at the time and dropped them to the ground, reacting in anger, when suddenly a nearby police officer stepped in and told him they would take care of the situation and he was ushered along.
Moore said some soldiers were so upset by the uproar they went to the nearest restrooms and changed out of their uniforms.
Vietnam veterans gather around a quilt made especially for veterans that will be given away during this year’s Columbiana County Fair. Pictured are (from left) Carl Goodballet, Blair Whitman, Ron Simmons, Butch Hardy and Tom Moore. (Photo by Katie Schwendeman)
Hardy spent 13 months in Vietnam as a medic for the Marines, and Moore spent 15 months there with the U.S. Army and had actually extended his tour by three months before coming home in January of 1967.
Both agreed coming home was the hardest part.
Hardy said he went overseas with a group of six from his boot camp and only three returned. One was killed and two were seriously wounded.
Blair Whitman, who served eight months in the Marines 9th Battalion, the same regiment as Hardy, said the Vietnam experience was different for everybody.
He and Hardy missed each other by mere months, with Hardy leaving before Whitman arrived. The three Columbiana County residents did not know one another before the war. On Tuesday they sat around a table at the fairgrounds sharing their experiences, disappointed that more people, especially the younger generations, don't know or understand the controversial war.
Area students are invited to visit The Moving Wall, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., that will be on display at the fairgrounds Sept. 11-15. The last time the 252.83-foot-long wall was in Columbiana County was 2009.
The wall travels around the country and features the names of 36 Columbiana County natives killed in the war during 1950-1975, and eight names of Hancock County, W.Va. natives, Vietnam veteran Ron Simmons said.
Simmons helped bring the wall to the county before, and is also assisting this year.
Sharen Cope, director of the fairgrounds arts and crafts department, said it cost the fair board $4,500 to get the wall this year, and that does not include incidentals and housing for the staff bringing it. Their accommodations have already been made at the Dutch Village Inn.
The cost is being shared by the board and donations, which have mostly come in from military organizations and individual contributions, she added.
The wall features almost 59,000 names and was first displayed in Tyler, Texas in 1984.
Cope said she graduated high school with James Prommersberger, the first casualty of the war from Mahoning County.
Their 1962 high school graduation was the last time Cope saw him and classmate Charlie Brown, who also did not return from the war. Both names are listed on the wall.
Cope has helped honor veterans of all wars through the Purple Heart for Veterans project held each year during the fair the last five years. Veterans are presented with homemade quilts and afghans during the recognition ceremonies and to date, more than 200 quilts and afghans have been presented, she said.
This year's project will coincide with the wall for a special dedication to the remembrance of the Vietnam War.
Simmons said the purpose of the wall is so that those who cannot make it to the wall in Washington, D.C., have the opportunity to see the names of all those who lost their lives in the war and pay tribute to their service.
Cope said Columbiana County Commissioners have already proclaimed Sept. 11 through 15 as Vietnam Veterans Weekend, and this year's theme of "Vietnam Veterans: You are Not Forgotten," was selected by Gen. Colin Powell.
Hardy, Moore and Whitman will never forget their experiences. Seated around the table inside the fair's new Turkey, Rabbit and Chicken barn, they discuss what could have been.
Hardy said the war could have been won had the United States continued bombing the north.
"In 1968 we had the North Vietnamese on the run," he said.
However, U.S. forces had been struck by a coordinated Viet Cong assault in January of that year, later called the Tet Offensive. It was this assault that became known as a turning point in the war, leading President Lyndon B. Johnson to scale back involvement.
The north was supported by its communist allies, China and the Soviet Union, while the south was supported by the U.S. and its anti-communist allies.
Attacking the North Vietnamese was difficult, since U.S. troops were fighting their first jungle war, and those in the north were already well-schooled in the terrain that featured a labyrinth of underground tunnels.
The enemy was well disguised, not only by the terrain, but by the native women and children who aided the north and helped carry out attacks on U.S. soldiers.
Hardy said his group later learned their female interpreter was working for the Viet Cong, and was relaying messages to them after leaving the camp.
"It was ugly at times. There were other times it wasn't," he said.
Whitman said he didn't have any bad experiences with the natives in the Vietnamese villages where he was stationed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail which ran through Laos and Cambodia.
"You didn't have a decision where you wanted to go, you just went where you were told to," he said.
Next year will be 60 years since the start of the conflict.