By Mark Conrad
Forty years after the last United States troops left South Vietnam, Ohio celebrated its first Vietnam Veterans Day during a week long celebration from 26 to 29 March. While there is no national holiday to specifically honor Vietnam Veterans, Ohio was one of 35 states to create an official day of remembrance last year when Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 134 into law.
The theme of this year’s commemoration was to welcome home and honor those who served, and to remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion. Sponsored by the Ohio Department of Veterans Services and the Vietnam Veterans of America, Buckeye State Council, events included panel discussions by former Vietnam prisoners of war, women Vietnam veterans, Veterans History Project interviews, and the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall.
Late last year, the, staff of Colonel Tom Moe, Director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services contacted the Miami Valley Military History Museum’s curator, Mark Conrad, with a request to provide artifacts for an exhibit planned at the Statehouse. Working with the Statehouse’s Historic Site Manager, Mark developed a comprehensive display that represented each branch of the Armed Forces, with a special focus on Ohio service members, and several from the Dayton area.
Among the local soldiers artifacts was the uniform of Specialist 4th Class William Howell, who took part in Operation NEW LIFE, in which over 110,000 refugees were evacuated from South Vietnam before that country fell to the communists.
One of two Purple Heart medals awarded to Specialist 4th Class Larry J. Pepper was exhibited along with his photograph and dog tags. Sp4 Pepper, of Jeffersonville, Ohio (C Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade (Light), 23rd Infantry “Americal” Division), was seriously wounded 19 September 1970, when a member of his patrol stepped on a mine; the resulting explosion killed several members of his squad, and seriously wounded Sp4 Pepper. He was returned to the U.S., but died on 31 January 1971 because of his wounds.
The centerpiece of the exhibit was the Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Specialist 4th Class Joseph G. LaPointe Jr. (B Troop, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” Division), provided by his widow, Cindy LaPointe-Dafler. Sp4 LaPointe, a combat medic, was killed in action on 02 June 1969 while attempting to provide aid to two wounded members of his squad. After the event ended, the Historic Site Manager mentioned that several members of the Ohio National Guard had made a special trip to Columbus just to be able to see the medal.
As Mark was setting up the display, Mr. Mike Linscott, who had served in Vietnam with the 46th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog), met him. Mr. Linscott had a large drawing of a Scout Dog team he had purchased in Vietnam and sent home to his parents, as well as several rare Vietnamese-made Scout Dog patches – he had tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to donate the artifacts to various Army museums, but each declined his offer. All of Mr. Linscott’s artifacts are now proudly displayed at the Miami Valley Military History Museum.
Although the exhibit was schedule for one week, its overwhelming success resulted in the museum receiving a request to extend the displays for an additional week, along with an invitation for next year’s commemoration.