Free Daily Headlines

News

Set your text size: A A A

VFW launches ‘Wall of Honor’ to permanently display medals

Retired Army Maj. Bob Johnson shows a shadowbox containing his medals from miiltary service. The Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 is introducing the Henderson County Wall of Honor on Saturday. Retired Army Maj. Bob Johnson shows a shadowbox containing his medals from miiltary service. The Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 is introducing the Henderson County Wall of Honor on Saturday.

When he was gathering stories for Natural Born Heroes, his book about the experiences of dozens of World War II veterans who lived in Haywood Knolls, Bob Johnson noticed a similarity about the mementoes the men and women brought home from the war.

“I interviewed 55 people,” he said. “I went to 55 homes and talked to them about World War II. And they had these little boxes of medals. And a lot of them said, ‘Nobody wants it. It’s just gonna get thrown away.’”

Johnson and his fellow veterans at Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 want to make sure that doesn’t happen. They’ve launched the Henderson County Wall of Honor to recognize all veterans’ service by publicly displaying their medals in shadowboxes at the post home at Five Points.

Johnson, a retired Army major who is also a homebuilder, got the idea from an exhibit at Virginia Military Institute, where he graduated in 1974 as the Vietnam War was drawing to a close.

“It’s interesting that here their criteria was what they call a valorous award,” he said. “So it had to be a specific act of valor (in combat) at a certain level. So starting with the Bronze Star with Valor (and going to) the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross or the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart. Believe it or not, nobody in my class is on this wall. Nobody was eligible because we were mostly in peacetime.”

Eligibility to be on the wall is simple.

“You’ve got to be honorably discharged, (and serve in) any component — active, reserve or National Guard — wartime or peacetime,” he said. Next of kin, such as a widow, child or grandchild, can sponsor a shadowbox. “They need to donate (the medals and ribbons) to us. We can’t do all this work and then (have the donor) take it back. The other piece is no cost. We’re not going to charge anybody to do it.” Participants also must have a Henderson County connection.

Johnson thinks it will take two years to finish the project, which is fine because it will take about that long for Henderson County to finish a major $4.2 million renovation county commissioners have authorized for the Hedrick-Rhodes post home.

 

‘What do you leave in life?’

 

Johnson said he’s not aware of any project anywhere as inclusive as the Henderson County Wall of Honor.

“I don’t think anybody in the country is doing what I’m doing,” he said. “The mission of our post is we’re gonna manage the program but we are looking for volunteers to help us.”

Johnson will formally introduce the project at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Henderson County public library. He will narrate a slide presentation explaining the spirit behind the idea, who can participate and how.

“We want to show veterans that the county honors their service, in deeds not words,” he said. “It honors the veterans of the county, living or dead — that’s a piece of it. So you can do your grandparents or whatever.”

The VFW is urging veterans to locate or obtain a replacement copy of their DD Form 214, a record of their military service, including awards and badges.

“I want to make a big deal about the DD 214 because we want to verify that the awards are earned,” he said. “I have been told there’s 9000 veterans in the county” and any number of deceased veterans survived by a spouse, child or grandchild.

Johnson said he’s not aware of any project anywhere as inclusive as the Henderson County Wall of Honor.

“I don’t think anybody in the country is doing what I’m doing,” he said. “The mission of our post is we’re gonna manage the program but we are looking for volunteers to help us.”

Instead of medals tossed in the trash and buried in the landfill, they will be displayed for friends, family and strangers to admire.

“Think about it. How many times in your life do you get to have something in a public place that represents you only?” he said. “This is it. You feel really good to get these awards. Service members should be very proud of this. New kids coming out of the service can do it or people whose grandfathers served” can be on the wall.

And maybe, Johnson added, the project will serve to make sure veterans know they’re respected.

“What do you leave in life? At best a headstone,” he said. “This is something a service member can have. One of the missions of the VFW that I picked up on that other people don’t or haven’t is it helps with (military) recruitment because how a community treats its veterans will show that the community respects their service. If they’re respected, you’d be more prone to enlist.”

* * * * *

The meeting to introduce the Henderson County Wall of Honor is at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, in the Kaplan Room of the main public library, 301 N. Washington St. To participate in the Wall of Honor project, veterans or family members may send an email to Post5206@vfwnc.com with “Wall of Honor” in the subject line. Someone will contact you to make an appointment for a meeting at the Henderson County downtown library. (The VFW has arranged for the use of a room.) Collect your ribbons and awards and a copy of DD Form 214 and bring them to the meeting. (To get a replacement DD 214 start by visiting archives.gov/veterans.)