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The Annual Christmas Tree Decorating Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Doylestown

The Annual Christmas Tree Decorating Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Doylestown

 

Since 1988, friends and family have been gathering on chilly, rainy, sometimes mild and even snowy nights in Doylestown to honor those Bucks County residents who were killed while serving their country in Vietnam.  This year, near the south end of the courthouse, eighty or so Bucks County residents and some from as far as Easton, PA and Maryland came together for a solitary reason -- to honor.  They gather, as they have from 1988 to pay respect to those whose names appear on the Bucks County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. 

The idea to erect a tree and decorate it with ornaments bearing the names was the idea of Neil and Sherry Wolfe.  Neil was a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran who wanted to honor those who could never again celebrate Christmas with their families.  Neil passed away before the 2010 ceremony, but his wife vowed to continue the tradition.  Previous years have included colder weather, windy nights, snow and rain but these elements have never deterred so many from attending.

The ceremony includes the decorating of a tree with the ornaments that are handed to each attendee as the names are recited by Jack Norton.   This continues until all the names have been honored.  Additionally, those Vietnam Veterans who have passed since the erection of the wall are honored as well as a remembrance of all conflicts that our nation has been involved in since World War I.  This year an ornament was placed by Sherry Wolfe for her deceased husband, Neil.

 Relatives of the fallen who attended include Cindy Powell and Bruce Hill (sister and brother of Robert Hill). Doug Snyder who served with Warren Beaumont in Vietnam also attended.  Warren’s sister was also in attendance.  (More of his story follows).  Duane Longfellow, brother of Ronald Longfellow – the last casualty on the Wall in 1972), could not attend this year but has placed his brother’s ornament on the tree in the past. 

Each year, the ceremony has ended with a prayer and the singing of “Silent Night” and everyone departs and goes their own way.  But, after the 2010 ceremony, one of the attendees, Jim McComb, a Marine Corps Veteran of the Vietnam War, went home with an unfulfilled feeling.  He felt that there should be something much more.  The names were being recited, the ornaments were being placed, but there was no face, no story attached to the names.  So in January, Jim discussed with me that he would like to research those on the wall that gave their lives and put in writing a document that could give them a face rather than just a name inscribed on the Wall.  After several weeks of research by Jim, he decided that this effort should be a part of a book for all to have access.  After months of arduous research, Jim’s vision was realized in November 2011 and “More than Names on a Wall” was published.   The book includes names of all those on that Wall and a short piece about each including where and how they perished and the location of their name on the Wall in Washington DC.  It is available at the Doylestown Book Store and Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Names-Wall-Remembering/dp/1466467541/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1323195241&sr=1-1

After all of this searching done by Jim, each year’s ceremony now means so much more to him.  As I stood next to him during the ceremony last year, he leaned over to me and said, “This is really strange this year”.  What he was sensing as each name was read was a feeling that he now knew each one more intimately than ever before.  The research, the conversations with some of the families, the final feat of publication all had come together now.  He had accomplished what he set out to do in the time he wanted to do it.   This year, the book was used to further enhance the ceremony with ages, ranks and places of residences.  It made the ceremony even more meaningful.

Each name on the wall has a story in the book, but to me there are two in particular that significantly stand out to me.  Glenn English, Jr. from Cornwell Heights, the only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient on the Wall was killed on September 7th, 1970 attempting to save another soldier trapped inside a burning armored personnel carrier.  He continued his efforts even though he was warned that it might explode at any moment. Glenn left behind a wife and two daughters. He was 30 years old.

The other is probably the most bizarre turn of fate in the book. Army PFC Warren Beaumont of Langhorne was a 19-year-old serving in Vietnam for only 28 days when he and his best friend, Doug Snyder, were patrolling along a river in South Vietnam River during April 1968.

Without warning, Snyder fell into a sink hole and was totally submerged with his full rucksack weighing him down. He quickly stripped off his pack and re-surfaced. But in the struggle, he lost his eyeglasses and began to float downstream. He was almost blind without his glasses and was not carrying a spare set.

Beaumont rushed down the river bank, grabbed hold of a tree branch with one hand and snatched Snyder to safety with the other. The next day as their unit was setting up camp in Tay Ninh Province, they set up a listening post. A listening post, a common routine in the field is composed of several troops sent out about 75 yards past the base camp perimeter sitting there all night just listening for the enemy.

Doug couldn’t go because he’d lost his glasses, so Warren offered to take his place. Warren was killed later that night. He had saved his buddy’s life twice. It was Good Friday.

It is Jim’s efforts that have now added a face to each and every name on that Wall in Doylestown and those who attend along with the families of those brave military members will be forever grateful.

If you have never attended this ceremony and are in the area next December, join those who have made this a tradition since its beginning in 1988.

Note:  In past stories about this event, I had been given incorrect information about its origin.  It was my understanding that the event began 22 years ago, but after a conversation with Sherry, it was verified that the first ceremony took place in 1988. I stand corrected.  Thank you, Sherry.

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Jim McComb December 17, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Great article Bob. Thanks for capturing the events and the mood last night. It was the biggest turnout that I've seen in my eight years of attending this event.

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