The Wall That Heals offers chance to heal old wounds

Aug 8, 2019 by

At Ipswich River Park August 13-18

Published August 8, 2019

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — They were so young. That’s what sticks with you when you finally find them staring back at you from the heavy bound volumes of yellowing newsprint.

Starting my search with a rough idea of when the war claimed three of North Reading’s own sons, it is still a shock to discover them, and realize that while the newsprint has aged, they have not.

It has been more than 50 years since Vietnam stole them from the world and their families and friends; their aspirations snuffed out like a cheap cigarette.

SGT. EUGENE R. MOREAU was the town’s first son to be killed in action in Vietnam on August 27, 1966. He was assigned to Special Forces, 101st Airborne at the time. (Transcript archive photo)

The town’s first victim, Sgt. Eugene R. Moreau, was killed in action August 27, 1966 while serving with Special Forces, 101st Airborne. A 1960 graduate of North Reading High School, he had married his high school sweetheart, Bette, and they had two very young sons, Troy and Keith.

It would be another 18 months before the war claimed another North Reading son. Marine Lance Corporal Jimmie M. Couto was killed in action by an enemy “explosive device” and suffered a “traumatic amputation of the right arm at the shoulder while on an operation near Tua Thien, Republic of Vietnam,” on February 13, 1968. Such was the account of his death given to his young widow, Blanche E. (Maker) Couto, via telegram, which she shared with the Transcript, along with a photo of her husband for the front page story that week. Couto was a native of Cambridge and the couple had made their home on Central Street and were members of St. Theresa’s Church in North Reading.

Just 12 days later, before this small town could adequately mourn the loss of Couto, word arrived that the war had claimed another native son. This time it was Daniel D. Callahan, a 1965 graduate of North Reading High School where he was a sensational basketball player. If his name sounds familiar it is because after his untimely death his former coaches named the team’s unsung hero award in his honor. It’s the legacy of a young man who would not live see his 21st birthday. Daniel died while serving with the 9th Division, 125th Infantry of the U.S. Army, just 3 1/2 months into his first tour of duty.

What is the purpose of bringing up such brutish reminders of the wounds of war and memories that have long been buried?

LANCE CPL Jimmie M. Couto, killed in action on Feb. 13, 1968, was the town’s second victim in the Vietnam War. (Transcript archive photo)

Because it’s time. It is time to restore the dignity of these soldiers, warriors and airmen who were fulfilling their duty to serve their country in one of its most unpopular wars. There were no heroes’ welcomes for these war-weary men who had buried more than 58,000 of their buddies in an unforgiving jungle while suffering the guilt of having gotten out alive. We are pretty familiar with their stories. These veterans were all advised to change into civilian clothes and hide their uniforms before disembarking from the planes and silently returning to their former lives.

They were supposed to bury their feelings about the war as easily as they had stuffed their battle fatigues into the bottoms of their suitcases and the back shelves of their closets once they returned home. How many suffered from PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange and a host of other ailments as they struggled to re-integrate into civilian life?

For many years North Reading’s Veterans’ Services Director, Susan Magner, has been vying to bring The Wall That Heals and its mobile education center to town. This year, she succeeded.

A full three-quarter replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., it only visits about 34 communities each year.

“It may be another five years before it comes anywhere close to this area,” she said. The Wall That Heals will visit Conway, N.H. then North Reading and then move on to Bellingham, Mass. in this area of the country this year.

S 1/4 DANIEL D. CALLAHAN, a 1965 graduate of NRHS, was the third resident of the town to be killed in action in Vietnam. (Transcript archive photo)

For anyone who has a loved one who cannot make it to Washington, D.C., Magner strongly urges them to come to at least one of the multi-day celebrations she and her team of volunteers has been planning for months.

For anyone who would like to learn more about the Vietnam War, the mobile education center offers an interactive component unlike any other she is aware of and it is appropriate for all ages.

Anyone who has ever attended an event planned by Magner knows her philosophy is basically go big or go home.

With that in mind, consider the following itinerary she and her committee planned — all of which is free to the public as they raised the funds to bring The Wall That Heals to town. Starting next Tuesday, August 13, when the wall arrives by police escort between 4-5 p.m., through Sunday, August 18, when there will be a solemn closing ceremony, the events are nonstop. On three consecutive nights, Thursday, August 15 through Saturday, August 17, at 6 p.m. each night, she has set up a star-studded lineup of speakers, singers and bands.

After the soft opening on Wednesday afternoon, The Wall That Heals will be open to the public 24/7 at Ipswich River Park and volunteers will be available to help visitors find their loved one’s name on the wall and do rubbings, similar to how it’s done in Washington, D.C.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 13

According to Magner, the public is encouraged to line the escort route with flags and cheer the police escort and motorcycle veterans group as they bring the wall from the parking lot of the International Family Church at 99 Concord Street (the old Converse building) down Concord Street to Park Street, crossing Rte. 28 and turning right toward the town center, across from Freedom Drive, and on to Ipswich River Park at 15 Central Street.

Magner suggests that those who want to be in Ipswich River Park for its 5 p.m. arrival get to the park by 4 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 14

• 8 a.m.: Set up of the wall begins. It will take 6-8 hours, followed by a soft opening.

• 6 p.m: All volunteers should arrive for 90 minutes of training on the wall and how to use both digital devices to locate names and the original paper chart.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15

•Wall is open 24/7

• 6 p.m.: POW/MIA ceremony, special drill presentation by the Lynn English JROTC Marine Corps Cadets; Honored guest speaker Sen. Bruce Tarr followed by roll call of local Vietnam Veterans from North Reading and surrounding towns plus a special “In Memory” program for any Vietnam Veteran who died subsequent to the war from illness or injury.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 16

6 P.M.: Welcome Home Ceremony featuring National Anthem sung by Ayla Brown; Guest Speakers Francisco Urena, state Director of Veterans’ Services and North Reading’s state Rep. Brad Jones Jr. as well as CCMSgt. Michelle O’Keefe of the Mass. Air National Guard. Additionally, a special presentation to be made to the families of Vietnam Veterans and Gold Star Families.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17

6 p.m..: The U.S. Navy will send a 21-piece ceremonial band. A candlelight vigil will be held and the honored guest speaker will be Col. Matthew J. Kennedy, U.S. Army National Guard.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 18

2 p.m.: The closing ceremony will take place, followed by break down of The Wall That Heals at 3 p.m.

Volunteers are still welcome to sign up for any shifts, especially breakdown. Call the North Reading Veterans’ Department at 978-357-5212 or visit www.northreadingma.gov/veterans-services.

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