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Set in Stone: Fallen Vietnam War veterans honored with memorial

(Courtesy of Jay Korff)

It’s early May at Memorial Plaza in Rockville, Maryland.

Two men are carefully carving and painting into the permanence of stone — a long overdue honor for 130 souls.

Tim Johnston and Mark Adams, with Stone Graphix, are putting the finishing touches on a new, Vietnam Veterans Memorial made of white granite.

“This has been a long process. We have been working on this for nine years,” said Vietnam veteran Mike Walsh.

For Montgomery County resident Mike Walsh, the joy and sadness of this moment is 50 years in the making.

“Three of my classmates from St. John the Evangelist Elementary School, Kevin Coyne, Frank Streeks and John Liverman are included on this wall.”

Walsh and those childhood friends all fought in Vietnam.

“That’s precisely why it’s so personal. I was there, and for some reason I got to come home and these guys didn’t,” said Walsh.

This 71-year-old retired educator, to cope with paralyzing PTSD, has been photographing Vietnam memorials around the nation.

“I realize now that was all in preparation for this," said Walsh.

He discovered the memorial in his own town did not include any names of the fallen. So, he and other veterans successfully convinced county leaders to build a new memorial, thereby recognizing the selflessness of these soldiers, sailors and Marines.

“It is said that as long as someone speaks your name you are never truly never gone. So these guys will live forever on this wall,” said Walsh.

A few weeks later on May 21, a full house of families and veterans attended the unveiling of Montgomery County’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Marine PFC William Bissell is one of 130 names etched into the monument. Bissell died in an ambush at the age of 19.

His sister, Judy Holt, says so much time has passed that she almost forgets her brother’s face. But his name, now set in stone like a stamp in time, will resonate for the ages.

“Every time they are recognized, it brings you more peace because you never got that chance to say goodbye," said Holt.

Mike Walsh was understandably emotional on this day thanks to the power and beauty of the memorial.

“It’s absolutely amazing and a little overwhelming,” said Walsh.

He was also grateful that the sister of one of his friends made it to this dedication. Aileen Walsh is Kevin Coyne’s sister.

“I’m grateful. I’m glad this happened. And it will always be there as a reminder," said Aileen Walsh.

What should this wall and these names reminds us of? It’s a lot to think about.

Maybe this memorial is a reminder to us all that it shouldn’t take 50 years to express a nation’s gratitude to its fallen fathers, sons and brothers.

“We have taken stone and we have made a memorial so that the children and the grandchildren, when they ask, will be told the story of these 130 heroes from Montgomery County," said Mike Walsh.

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Editor’s note: The above picture shows Mike Walsh being permitted the honor of painting in the name of his fallen friend Kevin Coyne. Walsh told us he encourages anyone suffering from PTSD to get the help they need. He says for years he suffered from nightmares preventing him from sleeping well. He says he can now sleep thanks to counseling.

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