Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Clinton is a work in progress that will be dedicated Sunday: Military Notes

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by Brian Albrecht

Clevland-Gold Star Mothers will participate in unveiling the statue created in their honor, and the Marlboro Volunteers will stage a "silent patrol" from the nearby woods and cut down canvas covering the memorial wall, followed by a 21-shot salute.

Organizers are expecting about 10,000 people for the event, including an estimated 7,000 motorcycle riders participating in the first annual Run to the Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, staging at 10 a.m. in the St. Helena Heritage Park in nearby Canal Fulton.

     

Pat McGrew ran her fingers over the raindrop-teared letters etched in black granite. MIKA STEPHEN A.

Mika was killed when his unit was ambushed in Vietnam in 1967. The Willowick native and 1964 graduate of North High School had just turned 22. The Army soldier had gotten married to his high school sweetheart three weeks before he was deployed. He and his wife loved daisies.

He was McGrew’s only brother.

Recently McGrew, 66, of Canal Fulton, remembered him as she found his name on the 125-foot-long wall of the Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Clinton, a $1.7 million work in progress that will be dedicated Sunday, May 17.

"It’s moving, very moving," McGrew said. "It’s a wonderful testimonial. Just beautiful."

That testimonial salutes her brother and 3,094 other Ohioans who died in that conflict. The number includes Sharon Lane, a 25-year-old Army nurse from Canton who was the only American servicewoman killed by enemy fire during the war, when a rocket slammed into the 312th Evac Hospital at Chu Lai in 1969.

In another row of names you’ll find Michael Paonessa, 21, of Akron, an Army radioman killed in 1968 and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for shoving his platoon leader out of the way of a crashing MedEvac helicopter that claimed Paonessa’s life.

His older brother, Joe, of New Franklin, said standing at the Ohio wall is an emotion-stirring experience similar to being at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

But he noted that the state memorial represents an advantage for Vietnam-era parents, now in their 80s, in that "taking a trip to Washington can be a major undertaking for somebody that age."

Paonessa is president and treasurer of the Ohio Veterans’ Memorial Park Commission, which started development of the two-acre site in Summit County, southwest of Akron, in 2007.

Call it a memorial, or partial payment on a debt long overdue — which is how Chell Rossi, commission vice president, sees it. "Vietnam vets were never given a proper welcome home," she said. "We’re just trying to make it up."

About half the planned project — built on donated land at 8005 Cleveland-Massillon Road, and financed entirely from grants and private funds — has been completed, according to Rossi. The biggest feature is the wall of names, topped with the message, "Lest We Forget," and built of 50 panels weighing 2,000 pounds each standing 8 feet high. The back of the wall features engravings of uniformed soldiers representing bygone and current military conflicts.

A nine-ton gray-granite statue of a woman, clutching a folded American flag as she stares at the engraved names, represents the Gold Star mothers of these Ohioans lost in war. A cobblestone and brick walkway, flanked by flags representing each military service branch, guides visitors to the wall.

Future planned installments include two full-size helicopters of the sort used in Vietnam, a POW/MIA reflecting pool and waterfall, an eternal flame and 16 individual engraved monuments. Money is being raised through donations for engraved memorial bricks, monuments, pear trees and benches.

The program for the 2-4 p.m. dedication includes remarks by former U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward Mechenbier, a pilot and POW for nearly six years in North Vietnam. Also speaking will be John Burnam, author of "A Soldier’s Best Friend," a book about his experiences as a scout-dog handler in Vietnam.

Rossi said two Gold Star Mothers will participate in unveiling the statue created in their honor, and the Marlboro Volunteers will stage a "silent patrol" from the nearby woods and cut down canvas covering the memorial wall, followed by a 21-shot salute.

Organizers are expecting about 10,000 people for the event, including an estimated 7,000 motorcycle riders participating in the first annual Run to the Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, staging at 10 a.m. in the St. Helena Heritage Park in nearby Canal Fulton.

Parking and shuttle buses will be available at Northwest High School, 8594 Erie Ave., in Canal Fulton.

Further information about the memorial or dedication can be found at www.ohiovietnammemorialpark.org or by calling 330-854-6295.

Airman finds work: Air Force Reserve Sr. Airman Karl Schultz, 53, of North Ridgeville, the subject of a Plain Dealer story who lost his trucking job at home while serving his second tour in Iraq last year, has found work.

Schultz recently started driving a tractor-trailer for Central Transport Inc. of Cleveland, hauling goods from Brook Park to Lansing, Mich., on the night shift.

Though it’s taken some readjustment to the working world after nearly seven months of unemployment since returning from Iraq, Schultz said it felt good to have a job. He noted that there’s also less financial pressure on him and his wife, Donna, who are raising eight adopted children.

He also wanted to thank the readers who provided donations and employment offers, saying, "There are some real great people out there."

Veteran of the Year: The Cleveland Wing of the Commemorative Air Force is holding an open house and ceremony honoring its Veteran of the Year on Saturday, May 16, Armed Forces Day, at the Lorain County Regional Airport, 44050 Russia Road, Elyria. The 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. event includes free refreshments and a drawing for a ride in the group’s World War II SNJ-4 Texan aircraft.

At 11 a.m. the Cleveland Wing will honor its second annual Veteran of the Year — W. Budd Wentz of Shaker Heights — who was a B-17 pilot during World War II.

Further details can be obtained at www.clevelandwing.org or calling 440-323-8335 or 440-835-1185.

Marine band concert: The Marine Corps Quantico Concert Band will hold a free public concert of patriotic music at 3 p.m. Sunday, Mother’s Day, in the Ross Performing Arts Center of Avon Lake High School, 175 Avon Belden Road.

Operation Baking Gals: The local chapter of Operation Baking GALS (Give a Little Support) got a big boost from a previous Military Notes column featuring the group, as its membership more than doubled to over 80 local bakers whipping up batches of cookies for troops overseas. Fran Zimmerman, head of the local chapter, said they can send out shipments to more soldiers in the coming months. Anyone interested in joining, or who can supply a recipient’s name and address, can contact the group through www.ohbakes.blogspot.com.

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