‘The Wall’ transcends time, generations
After all, Army Staff Sgt. Howe K. “Petie” Clark of Rockdale belonged to their grandparents’ generation, not theirs.
But 15 seventh and eighthgrade students at St. Paul Lutheran School in Thorndale returned from a school trip to Washington D. C. feeling like Sgt. Clark, who died May 23, 1969, in Vietnam was part of their family.
The students, who are taught by Cindy Melcher, St. Paul principal, had been studying the Vietnam War era in history and had recently read two books, one each describing the war from a soldier’s viewpoint and from the homefront.
“We knew we’d be going to the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington and wondered about looking for a name,” Melcher said. “There isn’t anyone from Thorndale on it, so Marcy Jones, who is a longtime St. Paul supporter suggested Sgt. Clark.
The students did a pencil and paper etching of Clark’s name and will keep it in their classroom as part of history that now seems personal.
‘CRAZY’—“It (the wall) was so peaceful and so tragic at the same time,” Logan Fisher said.
More than one student used the word “crazy” to describe the monument, but not in a derogatory way.
“All those names,” Macy Becker said. “It was really emotional.”
“Everyone was quiet and respectful,” Josh Iselt noted. “It’s like it would have been disrespectful to have talked loud.”
“You’d watch the people and it was really sad when they’d search and search and then finally find the name of someone they knew,” Ashton Albert said.
ETCHING—All 15 students participated in the etching of Sgt. Clark’s name, even if they only contributed a few pencil strokes.
“That way it’s a project for the entire class,” Melcher said.
During his funeral at the old Peace Lutheran Church, Rockdale businesses closed their doors and American flags were placed along the streets.
He was the second Rockdale resident to die in Vietnam. Sgt. Tommie Joe Clark was killed Dec. 16, 1963. The two Clarks were not related.
(The St. Paul students did not know Tommie Joe Clark’s name was also on the wall until they had returned to Thorndale.)
NAMES—The monument’s starkness and more than 50,000 names had its intended impact on the St. Paul students.
“Al l those names ,” Lane Niemtschk said. “And it’s so big.”
“The air is just different around the wall,” Nicholas Henson said. “The names were real people and I know many of those we saw there were their families and friends. It makes you sad.”
“It makes you think about it,” Mason Fisher said. “These were young boys.”
“The wall is hard to explain it to people who weren’t there,” Kristi Becker said. “ You just have to experience it.”
VIETNAM DEAD—In addition to the two Clarks and Rosemond, the following Milam County soldiers died in the Vietnam War:
Albert L. Bell, William R. Binker III, Charles W. Clinard, Felix M. Conde-Falcon, Robert M. Dauphine, Weldon D. Davenport, Dennis W. Fisher, James T. Griffin Jr., Billy J. Holt, John L. Rosemond, Allen P. Weaver.