Ceremonies to unveil and dedicate a brick and granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial were held Saturday at the Pfc. Clyde R. Houser Jr. Borough Annex Building on North Third Street in Lehighton. The monument honors four soldiers from Lehighton who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War and their families, and all Vietnam veterans.
The project was conceived and implemented by the Lehighton Area High School Class of 1964, the last class to graduate from the building. Afterward, the building became a middle school and is presently used for the community.
Lester Miller, a classmate and Navy veteran, said that he always wanted to honor Houser and the other men who lost their lives in Vietnam. Miller was described as relentless in his pursuit of completing the project.
Miller welcomed a gathering of about 200 people who stood on Third Street to see the unveiling of the monument and listen to speakers.
The Class of 1964 plans to add a pathway, permanent flag markers, and lighting to complete the display.
Jim Walp, also a classmate, introduced the guest speaker, George Duell, Army Reserve Ambassador to Pennsylvania, and state Rep. Doyle Heffley.
"Vietnam was an unpopular and misunderstood war, and still remains such today," said Duell. "Local warriors who answered our nation's call to serve and made the ultimate sacrifice while in harm's way in that far off country called Vietnam these young men arrived trained and ready, but were unsure of what was ahead as they entered the conflict but these young warriors never, never expected to return home on an angel flight, their last flight home to their families."
The young men honored were:
Ÿ PFC Clyde Houser Jr. was an infantryman who served with the 50th Infantry, 1st field force, U.S. Army. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Purple Heart and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Ÿ Leon D. Eckhart served as an infantryman with the 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. He was killed by hostile fire. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Bronze Star Medal with a V Device for Valor, Purple Heart and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Ÿ Charles R. Jones served in Vietnam for four months. He was an Infantryman and served with the 50th Infantry, 1st Field Force, U.S. Army. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Purple Heart and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Ÿ Lance Corp. Ronald Christman, a U.S. Marine serving in Vietnam with the helicopter unit. After two months, Ronald became a casualty in a helicopter lost due to hostile action. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Vietnam Campaign medals.
Duell said that although he did not know the men, he knows their spirit and he shares a bond with them.
"They are my fellow soldiers," he said. "They are my brothers my battle buddies my comrades in arms. They are part of a brotherhood than lasts forever."
Also speaking was Heffley, who commended the LAHS Class of 1964 and the committee for all their hard work.
"I would see them in the heat working to build the memorial," said Heffley, whose office is inside the annex building.
"They did a lot of hard, back-breaking work to see this monument built."
Reading a proclamation from Mayor Donald Rehrig was Richard Getz, a classmate, who spearheaded the building of the monument. Rehrig's proclamation honored the four men who lost their lives when they made the supreme sacrifice.
Two members of the UNV Color guard dropped the veil covering the ceramic portraits on the monument that showed the faces of the four men. Also part of the program was the unveiling of a cross by Dottie Miller and Mark Hagan. The cross says, "Some Gave Some, Some Gave All."
Becky McFadden led the singing of the national anthem. There was also a rifle salute by the United Veterans Organization. Reds O'Donnell offered the invocation and benediction.
Following the outdoor program, there was a brief intermission where people had the opportunity to have refreshments served by Rep. Heffley, and the opportunity to view display cases which contained memorabilia for each man, along with copies of their medals, and their American Funeral Flag.
There was a second presentation inside the Pfc. Clyde R. Houser Jr. Borough Annex by Major General Jay Barry, retired. Barry is president of Vietnam Veterans of Carbon County.
A 1966 graduate of LAHS, Barry welcomed family and friends to the program. He noted that the Vietnam era was a turbulent time in America. He said that many do not realize that 70 percent of the military who served during Vietnam were volunteers. He said that his draft number was number one and he knew that he had no choice to serve and was glad to serve.
Barry noted that during that period, soldiers were spit on, but they held their heads high.
"Changes did not happen overnight," he said. "You have to thank the Vietnam veterans for changing that perception of our returning soldiers."
Several family members, friends and classmates were permitted to share memories of the Vietnam War or their loved ones. Among those speaking were Clark Hamm, who was in the unit with Leon Eckhart when he was killed; and Larry Schlitter of Northampton, a member of the Class of 1964 and a Vietnam veteran, said that he arrived in Vietnam on a 5,000-man troop ship. He soon got to know Vietnam as a hot land, with lots of sun, and a rainy season which made it hotter. He said when soldiers arrived they were, "In Country," and didn't speak of death, although it was all around them. He said they knew everyone by the date they were to arrive home.
"You never knew what tomorrow would bring," said Schlitter. "These young men who died were 19 to 21 and they never had tomorrows. Their tomorrows were taken from them. There is no tomorrow for them. They will never be forgotten."
Several of the family members of the four men who lost their lives in Vietnam attended the program and were recognized.
The program concluded with refreshments served by the "Girls Night Out Committee Class of 1964."
Richard Getz was the memorial project manager. Eileen Buskirk was treasurer. Kris Snyder was in charge of the ceramic memorial portraits. Gerry Clay was in charge of the flag display triangle cases and easel. Clark Ritter was in charge of the inside memorial case displays. Dennis Yenser was in charge of the landscaping. Mary Schoenberger did the printing of the programs. Smokey Troutman provided the outside flag holders.
Project committee included, Lester Miller, Clark Ritter, Gery Clay, Dennis Yenser, Glen Troutman, Kris Snyder, Donald Kipp, David Warner, Rusty Frank, Jim Walp, Jim Remaley, Travis Gerould, Al Weaver, Bob Maholick and Larry Schlitter.
The building was renamed in memory of Houser this past spring. Houser, who was known to his friends as "Speedy," was killed in action in Vietnam at the age of 21 on June 13, 1967. Houser was the only member of the LAHS Class of 1964 who was killed in Vietnam.
The borough annex was the former Lehighton Area High School from 1918 to 1964.
The committee planning the dedication and memorial raised most of the $7,500 goal to cover expenses of the project.
Contributions may be made to: The PFC Houser Memorial Fund, 221 Walnut St., Lehighton, PA 18235.
The renaming of the building came due to the efforts of six individuals who got together and came up with the suggestion. They are Clark Ritter, Lester Miller, Glenn Troutman, Jim Walp, Dave Werner and Dennis Yenser.