In Haverhill, Honoring Those Who Fell in Vietnam

  • Charlie Wishart, of Woodstock, N.H., holds his son Charlie while looking at a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in North Haverhill yesterday. A veteran of the war, Wishart returned to Vietnam about 20 times as part of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Charlie Wishart, of Woodstock, N.H., holds his son Charlie while looking at a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in North Haverhill yesterday. A veteran of the war, Wishart returned to Vietnam about 20 times as part of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Above: The Haverhill Memorial VFW Post 5245 starts the ceremony held at the Haverhill Fair Grounds yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Above: The Haverhill Memorial VFW Post 5245 starts the ceremony held at the Haverhill Fair Grounds yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jean Durgin, of Henniker, N.H.,  a Gold Star Mother, greets people afterward. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Jean Durgin, of Henniker, N.H., a Gold Star Mother, greets people afterward. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Charlie Wishart, of Woodstock, N.H., holds his son Charlie while looking at a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in North Haverhill yesterday. A veteran of the war, Wishart returned to Vietnam about 20 times as part of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Above: The Haverhill Memorial VFW Post 5245 starts the ceremony held at the Haverhill Fair Grounds yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Jean Durgin, of Henniker, N.H.,  a Gold Star Mother, greets people afterward. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

North Haverhill — Seven years ago, Jean Durgin was at home in Henniker, N.H. when two men approached the front door. Her son, Sean, answered the door and screamed.

She looked back, and noticed the two men were in uniform.

Durgin’s other son, Russell, had been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan, she told a group of about 150 veterans, citizens and children on a middle school field trip yesterday.

“That pain will never go away,” she said.

Durgin was one of three Gold Star Mothers at the North Haverhill Fairgrounds as a part of the opening ceremony for a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial.

The memorial, which is 80 percent the size of the permanent Vietnam War Memorial on the Mall in Washington and features the names of more than 58,000 veterans either dead or missing, will be on display at the fairgrounds and open to the public 24 hours a day until Monday at 3 p.m.

The grounds will also play host to various ceremonies over the next few days, each with distinguished guests. At a noon ceremony today, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., will be one of four speakers.

Yesterday’s inaugural ceremony, though, focused on those closest to effects of various wars, even as the faithful recreation of the Vietnam memorial stood nearby, driven up from Flint, Texas by members of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute.

Besides the Gold Star Mothers, who lost sons in recent conflicts, an impromptu panel of four World War II POWs, who range in age from 88 to 95 years old, formed after the main ceremony to field questions from a vocally curious group of Haverhill Cooperative Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders.

“You can either let them take you, or shoot you,” said the 90-year-old Francis Angier, of Williston, Vt., who spent seven months in prison camps after his B-17 was shot down over Germany. “I didn’t have trouble making up my mind.”

He and the other three POWs relaxed near the bandstand as sandwich boards noting the death tolls of various U.S. wars dotted the grass, which had been landscaped with shrubs and wooden benches.

The ceremony lasted about an hour, and those in attendance were invited to mill about. Most examined the memorial, either homing in on individual names or walking the length of the two ascending walls, which meet at a maximum height of 8 feet.

On the east side of the memorial, which doesn’t boast the reflective surface of the mirror-like version in the nation’s capital, Bill Rowden and Pat Hebert knelt on the grass, each holding sheets of paper used for rubbing over the inscribed names.

They finished one of their souvenirs, a penciled image of the name “Rembrandt C. Brown,” with whom Rowden served at one point during his more than three 30 years in the Navy. Brown died in a helicopter crash, Rowden said.

“He had a great future,” said Rowden, of Lancaster, Pa., who had been staying in Wells River, Vt., with his brother. “Snuffed.”

The pair moved on, in search of their next inscription. Hebert consulted her papers. They moved along the wall with carefully eyeing the panels with thousands of names until they reached panel 29 east, line 11.

Rowden pushed a piece of paper against the wall and brandished a pencil.

“All right, Fredric,” he said. “Here we go.”

The tracing lasted just several seconds, resulting in a clear, pencil-brushed image of the name Fredric Knapp, a brother of a close friend of Hebert’s.

They continued along the length of the wall, following its steady slope. Further away from its highest point, Terry Gerds, of Danville, Vt., glanced at the wall, reading through the names, while holding his National Guard basic training manual in his hand.

“A lot of memories,” he said of the wall. “Some good, some bad. A lot of sadness.”

Gerds served in the National Guard between 1965 and 1971 — “when this was going on,” he said, gesturing to the wall — and was looking for the names of 15 people with whom he served, but never knew their fate.

The press of the crowd around the memorial made it difficult to navigate portions of the wall.

Earlier, Michael Haluch, of Bradford, and Robin Boutin, of nearby Benton, N.H., were walking the length of the memorial, even though neither has a direct connection to the events it immortalizes.

“It’s kind of breathtaking,” said Haluch, 21, who said he came to the wall yesterday to pay his respects.

“Just awe,” replied Boutin, 27.

“Didn’t really expect it to be this hard-hitting,” Haluch said.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.