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Memorial Day Service Highlights Newest Names On Wall South Vietnam War Memorial

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Sandra Averhart
/
WUWF Public Media

Memorial Day Observance Features Newest Names On Wall South Vietnam War Memorial

Pensacola’s annual Memorial Day observance was held Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown. The ceremony featured a keynote speech by a former Blue Angels pilot and was highlighted by the unveiling of the newest names to be added to the Wall South Vietnam War Memorial.

Despite darkening skies and a light rain, numerous veterans’ motorcycle clubs arrived to participate and organizers from the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation were able to go on with the service, with hundreds of people remaining until completion.

Donna Riner attended with her husband Clarence Riner, a former Marine who served in Vietnam.

“He’s retired and our son was in the military, and both our parents were and my brother were,” said Donna Riner. “It’s just something we need to do. “

The Riner’s brought their 8-year old grandson, who as a Cub Scout laid flags at Barrancas National Cemetery the day before. They say they want to teach him about the importance of this special day, given their family’s long history with the military.

“My dad was in the South Pacific; he was fortunate,” said Clarence Riner, noting that none of his family members were killed while serving the country. “Some pretty bad stuff in Iwo Jima and in the battle of Okinawa,  and he survived that. I was in Vietnam and I survived that.”

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Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
Army veteran Neal Caspersen served as an air ambulance "Dustoff" medic during Vietnam.

“I flew ‘Dustoff.’ I was a crew chief for a Dustoff,” said Neal Caspersen, an Army Veteran who served as an air ambulance medic. “We’re the guys with the Red Cross that went and picked the wounded up and kept them alive as best we could until we could get them back to the hospital.”

Caspersen says on this day, he has a lot of memories.

“I handled a lot of these guys. I handled a lot of these bodies. I picked people up and I know a lot of them died and I knew them for a few minutes,” said Caspersen. “On that wall, there’re 211 names that are Dustoff people, that are all Dustoff. Seventeen are from my unit.”

Already, there are more than 158,000 names on the wall. The highlight of this year’s observance was the unveiling of the 140 names recently added to the Vietnam Memorial wall, now on panel 135 south.

“Miguel Hernandes Diaz, William J. Scannell, Terry L. Allen, Jose Herrera,” the readers began.

Helping with the lengthy list was retired Navy Captain and submariner Butch Hanson, president of the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation.

“These names mean a lot, a tremendous a lot to all of us,” said Hanson, adding that of particular interest for this community were four naval aviators, who were lost in a combat mission in Vietnam, whose names were being unveiled. “And, we have the family members of two of those brave men with us, from ATC Joseph Aubin and Lt. Walter Linzy, as well as one of the crewmembers who survived that flight in Collin Pemberton.”

The other naval aviators lost during that mission in 1966, Richard Hunt and Richard Stocker.

Before the names were revealed, the widow of Vietnam War Veteran Dan Gogol, shared his story. 

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Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
Karen Gogol shares the story of her Vietnam "hero" husband Dan, who died from cancer in 2009.

Karen Gogol she says all who served in that conflict should be considered heroes for what they endured.

“Dan went to Vietnam in 1969 and came home 365 days later,” Gogol said. “He came home a changed man...he came home to a life sentence, in solitude, in a hell we can never imagine.”

Gogol says her husband Dan suffered the effects of the poisonous Agent Orange, noting that twenty years after coming home from that war, it still raged inside him.

Eventually he dealt with his PTSD and they would be married for 38 years before he died from bladder cancer in 2009.

“And, now as I go through each day, I remember all the things Danny taught me,” said Gogol. “I remember to thank every soldier I walk by, because it could mean the world to a veteran on that day. Thank you to the soldiers, to the spouses, to the Veterans, to the spouses and the family that are hear today, thank you for your service and your sacrifice. It is greatly appreciated.”        

Retired Navy Commander and former Blue Angels pilot Scott Moyer, delivered the keynote speech.

Moyer served two tours with the Blues, noting that the second time came at a cost, following the deaths of Lt. Cmdr. Kieron O'Connor and Lt. Kevin Colling in a crash in 1999. And, he also noted the death of Cpt. Jeff Kuss in June of last year.

“I don’t know what words could possibly justify what it’s like when a wife or husband, or brother or sister get that notification; the pain, that sting, that sinking in your heart,” said Moyer.

He continued by asking how you tell a child that their parent is a hero, but they’re never coming home. Then, he offered thanks to those who are serving right now.

“There’s men and women in tents, in barracks, on ships, forward-deployed, standing the watch so we can be here to honor our heroes and we owe them thank you,” Moyer said. “We owe thanks to the men and women who’ll serve in the future. Because unfortunately, there will be more tomb stones, because freedom isn’t free.”

During the ceremony, members of the Pensacola Opera formed a medley of patriotic songs, and this year’s essay contest winners were recognized. The service concluded with the annual wreath laying at the wall, rifle salute and the playing of taps.