It took Ret. Brigadier General and Vietnam Veteran Dan Cherry nearly 40 years to travel back to Saigon to meet a Vietnamese pilot he shot down in combat during the Vietnam War.
On Monday, May 9, attendees at The Center for Rural Development’s free breakfast for The Wall That Heals traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall will hear Cherry’s emotional story of healing and reconciliation in a special speaking engagement during the kickoff of the replica wall’s one-week stay in Somerset, Ky.
Cherry, a published author and decorated fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force from Bowling Green, Ky., will join local, state, and national leaders at the kickoff breakfast on May 9 starting at 9:30 a.m. to honor Kentucky veterans, military service personnel, and their families.
The program launches a week of daily planned military observances—scheduled at noon at The Center each day beginning Tuesday, May 10—honoring the more than 58,000 service members killed or reported missing in action during the war. A closing ceremony will be held at noon on Saturday, May 14, with full military honors conducted by Somerset’s American Legion Post 38 Honor Guard.
“We honor the memory of those who gave their lives in service to their country and their families left behind,” Cherry said. “The Wall That Heals is a lasting tribute to those who served and is a reminder of the price paid for freedom.”
Joining Cherry in the program will be U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), who served in the Kentucky and North Carolina National Guard from 1957-64 and is a member of the National Guard and Reserve Caucus; Commissioner Ken Lucas, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center, Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF); and other local and military service leaders.
In his book, “My Enemy…My Friend, a Story of Reconciliation from the Vietnam War,” Cherry chronicles an intense 1972 dogfight between his F-4 Phantom and a North Vietnamese MiG-21 at 15,000 feet in the skies near Hanoi, North Vietnam.
Thirty-six years after that combat mission, Cherry came face-to-face with the North Vietnamese pilot Lt. Nguyen Hog My, who was severely injured in the attack, in a meeting in Saigon.
But their story does not end there. The two men became friends and that friendship is the focus behind Cherry’s message of healing and reconciliation.
At the kickoff breakfast, Scruggs will announce a statewide initiative to gather photos of 1,058 Kentuckians whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for a future project in Washington. The photographs collected will be used in the Education Center at The Wall, a learning facility being built near the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln Memorials in Washington, D.C.
The Education Center will build on the visitor’s experience at The Wall by showing a photo of every name and telling their stories.
“I am so proud of all the work that has been done, and is still being done to honor our fallen heroes and all Vietnam Veterans,” said Russell Springs resident Carla Roy, who submitted a photograph of her uncle, Samuel Calvin Martin, whose name is on The Wall.
Martin was killed May 17, 1968, while serving the U.S. Army on a three-year tour. He was awarded the Commendation Medal for meritorious service.
The Wall That Heals exhibition includes a traveling museum and information center, which is equipped with a scanner so visitors can bring their photos of loved ones on The Wall and have them scanned onsite.
The exhibit—equipped with lights at night—may be viewed 24 hours per day. There is no admission charge to view The Wall or attend any of the daily military observances. The Center is located at 2292 South U.S. 27 (at Traffic Light 15) in Somerset.