Our View: At last, a time for mourning
They had heard of Boone and the Rich Mountain community, where their fallen comrade, Harold Dean Beach, had called home before he was killed in Vietnam in 1969, but they had never before visited.
They came to honor the memory of Beach, who died a hero, and to pay their respects to his family. Some of them had never been together in 44 years, ever since they had left the war zone.
This was an emotional journey -- how could it be otherwise? Their trip to the High Country will not soon be forgotten -- nor will the one they came to honor.
"There are no words to describe what this means to us," said Jerry Husgen, who drove in from Missouri.
Husgen is right. There are no words -- only an attempt to give voice to memories of a fallen comrade.
On Thursday morning, beneath the bluest of skies, former platoon leader Jim Jean led his men up the mountain for a final mission. It was different than any he had commanded before. This time, the troop's destination was Skyland Cemetery, where Beach had been laid to rest in May 1969, just a short distance from his childhood home.
This was a long-overdue memorial service for Beach: Several Vietnam veterans were scattered throughout the crowd of family, friends and military representatives. Some proudly displayed their emblems on leather vests, some tattooed upon their arms -- some, on both. A few veterans stood on the fringes of the crowd, unable to control the tears falling from their eyes.
Was it "The Ghost of Vietnam," so hauntingly sung by D-Trooper Dave Kyle, who wrote the song that brought it all back? Was it "Taps," or "Danny Boy" or the 21-gun salute that did it?
Or, was it the poignant stories told by the D-Troopers about how Corporal Beach defended his country to the end with no regard for his own safety?
Something about "a time for healing," the song said.
For those on Rich Mountain Thursday morning, that time had finally arrived.