Frank Hrynio carried a scrapbook under his arm while he searched for his squad leader’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall on Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Hrynio, now 69, remembered how his squad leader, Larry Williamson, died after stepping on a booby trap in South Vietnam in 1970.
“It was eight days after I left Vietnam,” he said, while he stood just a few feet from the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Hrynio pulled out a note from the scrapbook with a faded red cover and placed the piece of paper on the ground near his buddy’s name.
“You really piss me off but you’re still a good friend,” the squad leader wrote.
His voice cracked as he told the story about how he and his friends were “grunts,” sometimes having to go on “search and destroy” missions that lasted for as many as 17 days.
“He was a nice guy,” Mr. Hrynio said. “Big, tall. Just a great guy.”
Realizing he would be drafted, the Syracuse resident was just 19 when he and a cousin enlisted. He served there for almost a year.
While the memories are difficult, they are not too far away as he still keeps two volumes “of my Vietnam scrapbooks” in his Syracuse home, he said.
On a cloudy and cool summer day, others lined up in front of The Wall in search of names of loved ones on aluminum panels that stretched across the War of 1812 battlefield in Sackets Harbor.
It was on that sacred ground where patriots lost their lives more than 200 years ago and about 500 veterans, those currently in the military and local folks, came together on Saturday to honor Vietnam soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Retired Col. Michael T. Plummer told the crowd that returning Vietnam soldiers were often met by scorn.
They were spat upon by those who opposed the unpopular war, he said.
The military was blamed, not the politicians who sent them there, he said.
But The Moving Wall was “righting a wrong,” he said.
Black River resident James Lewis lost two brothers from the ravages of the Vietnam war. First, Eric O. Lewis died at the age 18 when his truck hit a land mine on Feb. 2, 1970.
Mr. Lewis, 59, a retired Fort Drum soldier, was just 10 at the time, so he doesn’t have a lot of memories of him.
“I remember my mom running out of the house crying when she was told,” he said.
While Eric never really had a chance to begin his life, Mr. Lewis’ oldest brother, Lawrence, died four years ago at the age of 65.
A desire for revenge, he said, led Lawrence to enlist and go to Vietnam. His life was full of illness, however.
“Eventually, complications of Agent Orange got to him,” he said.
Charlie Frego drove down from Massena on Saturday because he had never seen The Moving Wall and hoped to find a cousin’s name among the 58,272 men and women whose names are on the Wall.
He didn’t know much about William McBroom, only that he was his grandmother’s stepson.
“Every one of those names represents a knock on the door,” he said.
At the age of 19, Robert Watters, now 68, went to Vietnam, where he served for eight months in Quang Nam Province in the central region of the country before getting transferred to Korea.
A few months later, his platoon sergeant, George Collins, was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his jeep on Sept. 6, 1970.
On Saturday, he and his wife of three years, Christine, traveled from their Oxbow home, specifically to look for the platoon sergeant’s name.
She’s been supportive of her husband, although she, at first, didn’t understand what it means to be a Vietnam veteran and the impact of his experiences there had on his life.
To find out more, she read a book written specifically for wives of veterans.
“I learned a lot,” she said.
Just as the sun broke from the clouds, the names of the 61 Vietnam soldiers from the area were read aloud.
The Moving Wall will remain on display through Sunday in the green grass of the War of 1812 Battlefield State Park and Historic Site in Sackets Harbor.
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