Veterans Day: “The Wall” at 25
This year Veterans Day is also the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall in Washington. The Memorial, well known as “The Wall,” was dedicated November 13, 1982.
“Remembering Vietnam – The Wall at 25,” is the subject of a stunning original Smithsonian Channel Documentary. The program will be simultaneously web-streamed on the Smithsonian Channel Website (www.smithsonianchannel.com) with its on-air broadcast to DirecTV subscribers on Channel 267 this evening at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Heidi Schroeder, my colleague at The Westminster Eagle, and I were provided an advance copy of the documentary. We had been contacted for research information by Lynn Kessler-Hiltajczuk last summer.
Ms. Kessler-Hiltajczuk is a writer-producer for Alexandria-based LK Productions and served as an independent producer for the program. She was looking for additional information on Lance Cpl. Muriel Stanley Groomes, a Carroll Countian who was killed in Vietnam November 2, 1968.
Ms. Schroeder wrote that in “addition to a history of The Wall's construction and interviews with veterans, the documentary provides a sneak peek into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, which features over 100,000 items that have been left at The Wall.”
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund founder and president Jan Scruggs calls the program "the best documentary film about the wall I've ever seen." After reviewing it several times, I could not agree more.
In the many years since the dedication of The Wall, the memorial has evolved into a national shrine for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam – an often misunderstood and inaccurately reported conflict.
It has also become a tribute to the American veterans who served our country in that long-ago war, thousands of miles away from the comfort of our living rooms.
Veterans such as Carroll County State’s Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, a former Frederick County assistant State’s Attorney who choose to forego what would have been an easily available draft deferment in May 1968 and joined the Army.
It was in that month that the 1966 Westminster High School graduate received his draft notice. According to a biographical sketch written by former Maryland State Delegate Carmen Amedori, Mr. Barnes joined a number of draftees from Carroll County “on a school bus at the (Westminster) Post Office downtown,” and headed to Fort Holabird in Baltimore – and then promptly to Fort Bragg, NC.
There Mr. Barnes opted to eschew being drafted for two years and enlisted for three years. At first he wanted to be a helicopter pilot, but after a series of events, he signed up for Special Forces – the Green Berets.
Mr. Barnes’ Vietnam experience was one of a number of sketches by Ms. Amedori which appears in a new publication from the Historical Society of Carroll County: “Tours of Duty – Carroll County and the Vietnam War,” by Gary D. Jestes and Jay A. Graybeal.
In a recent interview Mr. Barnes talked about his service in Vietnam from September 16, 1969, to September 16, 1970. He began his Special Forces – Green Beret training in January 1969.
Soon after arriving at Cam Ranh Bay, he was assigned to the first of three “A-Camps” in Kon Tum Province, which is located in the Central Tay Nguyen Highlands. The “A-Camp” counterinsurgency concept is still being used to this day in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Kon Tum Province he served at A-241 Polei Kleng, A-244 Ben Het and A-245 Dak Seang – about 20 miles from the Laotian border as one of approximately 10 American “advisors” serving with several hundred Montagnard tribesmen in the “Civilian Irregular Defense Group” counterinsurgency program.
In Vietnam, Sergeant Barnes served with the 5th Special Forces Group and a “typical” assignment was to go out on 8-10-day operations as (more often than not) the lone American with a contingent of South Vietnamese Special Forces counterparts – or Montagnards – to monitor and patrol the Ho Chi Minh trail. “Our objective was to interdict and disrupt the supply activities of the trail.”
“It was while out on one of these patrols that Barnes’ heroic actions earned him the first of two Bronze Stars for valor,” according to Ms. Amedori.
Mr. Barnes explained that he was with 20 Montagnards, 18 miles from the Laotian border, “manning a radio relay station for a larger operation farther out when we were attacked at dusk by a (contingent) of the North Vietnamese regular Army.”
The ensuing firefight lasted throughout the night. “We took some casualties and before it was all over, it took calling in an artillery attack, then Cobra helicopter gunships followed by suppression fire from C-130’s, known as “Puff the Magic Dragons,” and finally two fighter jets to save them.
Before returning home he was awarded a second Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge among a number of recognitions. He turned down a number of Army re-enlistment offers and served the remainder of his enlistment stateside with the 10th Special Forces with the famed 10th Mountain Division in New England.
After his honorable discharge in June 1971, he utilized the GI Bill and graduated first from the University of Baltimore and then from the University of Baltimore Law School in June 1977.
“I actually started as an intern with the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office in 1976,” said Mr. Barnes. With the exception of four years with the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s office, he has been in Westminster ever since. He served as an Assistant State’s Attorney until he was first elected to the office of Carroll County State's Attorney in November 1994.
Mr. Barnes has “tried as best (he) can to attend all the Veterans’ Day ceremonies... It is important to remember individuals who have dedicated their lives for the establishment and preservation of our freedoms.”
It is important that this Veterans’ Day, we remember the service of Sergeant Barnes and countless other veterans. God bless them all for their dedication and commitment.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: email@example.com