By MARTHA McCLAIN
“It has taken me 30 years to forget my demons,” said John Hamlink, a Vietnam War Veteran who was among local Patriot Guard Riders Wednesday who escorted the traveling Healing Wall to the LZ: RGV – Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans’ tribute this Saturday at the McAllen Convention Center.
The day-long event will provide education, information, resources and even fun to veterans and their families, many of whom are low income or live in poverty. The “LZ” in the title stands for landing zone, which was stamped on the orders received by soldiers sent to Vietnam.
The wall that Hamlink and fellow motorcycle riders escorted is a half-scale model of the original Wall in Washington D.C. that contains more than 58,000 names of the veterans whose lives were lost during the war. The Saturday ceremony will honor all South Texas Vietnam Veterans who, upon return from their service, were not honored as heroes, but rather often heckled some 36 years ago as killers of innocent babies and helpless victims of war.
Hamlink’s demons, many created during his three-year tour across Vietnam as a member of the Army 173rd Airborne Brigade from 1966-1968, are put to rest as he joins fellow Riders as they participate in all-too-frequent funerals of fallen American servicemen and women now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have participated in about 50 such solemn events, riding Harley Davidson motorcycles decorated with US flags and other patriotic gear. Among those of recent memory, the Patriot Guard said, were of three active female service personnel from San Benito over the past several years who were brought home and laid to rest.
“We do it out of respect for the families,” Hamlink said. The idea of war protesters insulting the families of war heroes who are trying to bury their loved ones is not a concept Hamlink and other Patriot Guard Riders tolerate. He recalled one incident near La Joya where fanatic religious protesters threatened to appear at a local soldier’s funeral, prompting a strong response from the Patriot Guard Riders. The protesters left a message to the boy’s mother, Mrs. Cantu, that they were glad her son was dead, he said.
For more on this story, pick up a copy of the Apr. 7 edition of the Port Isabel South Padre Press or check out our E-edition by clicking here.