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Column: More stories from The Wall That Heals

Posted: May 10, 2018 2:47 p.m.
Updated: May 11, 2018 1:00 a.m.

There were a few stories and pictures from The Wall That Heals a week ago we were unable to include in Tuesday’s edition.

Along with some other thoughts, here’s the result of conversations I had with three men I met last Friday while taking pictures of the exhibit.

Bill Brown, is a member of the Knights of Columbus here in Camden. Born in Charleston 77 years ago, his family moved to Philadelphia in 1946 and has lived in both New York and Florida.

At the age of 20, he entered the U.S. Navy and actively served for two years. He would spend another 31 years in the Naval Reserves, finally retiring, with a lot of those years serving aboard ship in Mayport, Fla.

Brown was what the Navy calls a shopkeeper, very similar to a quartermaster in the Army, he told me. Although he certainly served during the Vietnam War, he did not participate in the war directly. Instead, out of Florida, he would help sailors prepare to go to Vietnam in his role as shopkeeper.

“I can’t remember all the names,” Brown told me while standing in front of The Wall That Heals, “but I’ve lost quite a few.”

He was trying to remember the last name of a friend named “Louis” he had known at the time.

Brown would repeat his role as shopkeeper many years later at Ft. Skylar, The Bronx, N.Y., in conjunction with the first Gulf War in 1990.

Since Camden served as the only host for The Wall That Heals in South Carolina this year, I knew there was a good chance I would meet people from outside Kershaw County.

I met such a person in Butch Salters, of Lexington.

I noticed Salters as he was squatting in front of The Wall That Heals, using an index finger to scan for a name. Finally finding it, he used his smartphone to take a picture. When he was done and began walking away, I stopped Salters and asked him about the person whose name he had found.

It was a Marine named Percy Pugh.

“We were in the same company at Parris Island,” Salters said. “He went into another division that was very hard to get into. He got into it, but I didn’t make it -- only one in a hundred could get into it. I told him, ‘You’ve got to be crazy,’ but he was built like a gorilla.”

While Salters didn’t end up in Vietnam, Pugh did -- and didn’t come back.

“I came across some of the guys who went with him. They told me he was the point man in a unit that walked into an ambush,” Salters said.

By the time we shook hands and said good-bye, Salters was wiping tears from his eyes.

I suspect that was because, Salters told me, he had never been to Washington, D.C., and, therefore, had never gotten to visit the Vietnam Memorial to find Pugh’s name.

Most local readers know who Glen Inabinet is thanks to his work with Camden American Legion Post No. 17 and as co-author with his wife, Joan, of A History of Kershaw County, South Carolina. It was Inabinet who, the following day, read not only an account of what led to the Vietnam War and, ultimately, The Wall That Heals coming to Camden, but the Distinguished Flying Cross citation for Lugoff’s Johnny L. Blye.

On Friday, he was conducting his own little tour of The Wall That Heals for his cousin, Beth Hardage, of Greenwood. By the time I caught up with them, Inabinet and Hardage were (if you’re facing the Wall) about halfway down the right side. I told Inabinet that I assumed he knew some of the more than 58,000 men whose names were listed on The Wall That Heals. Indeed he did.

One in particular, which he pointed out to me nearby, was of Richard Kapp, a fellow classmate of Inabinet’s at Orangeburg High School. Kapp, like Salters’ friend, Pugh, was a Marine.

“Everyone liked him,” Inabinet told me of the man who didn’t make it back.

As I wandered around Friday, and during my return on Saturday both for Blye’s medal and Rusty Majors’ rendition of Taps that evening, I saw not just an amazing number of people -- estimated somewhere near the 14,000 mark from May 1 to Sunday -- but the diversity of people who came to see The Wall That Heals.

There were men, of course. Soldiers, pilots, sailors and more. Women, whose husbands, sons, brothers, nephews and more served in Vietnam. Not only did I see entire families -- grandparents, parents and young children -- but young families who, I suspect, wanted to experience the profound sense of loss and pride of service we owe our Vietnam veterans.

As a child, I had ill feelings toward the military because one of my grandfathers died during the Vietnam era, although not in Vietnam itself. It would take writing stories about the men and women of posts 17, 195 and 203, and of those who served in World War II before I gained an appreciation for all veterans from all branches of service who have served in all wars.

Thank you for your service.

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