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Old 03-31-2018, 05:13 PM
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Arrow Vietnam monument arrives at Camp Pendleton marking National Vietnam Veteran's Day

Vietnam monument arrives at Camp Pendleton marking National Vietnam Veteran's Day
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: March 31, 2018

On site a photo of: Patriot Guard Riders of Southern California with the American Legion Riders, participate in delivering the 5th Marines Vietnam War Memorial at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 29, 2018. The memorial is scheduled to be unveiled on May 28, 2018 to pay tribute to the Marines and Sailors of the regiment.

CAMP PENDLETON (Tribune News Service) Cpl. Orlando Pena stood at attention, saluting as three flatbed trucks entered the base on their way to the 5th Marine Regiment Memorial Garden at Camp San Mateo.

The trucks, carrying a monument to Marines and sailors from the "Fighting Fifth" regiment who died in Vietnam, left a Vermont-based foundry on March 22 to make the eight-day, cross-country journey accompanied by dozens of Patriot Guard riders.

On Thursday, March 29, the convoy, led by motor officers from the Orange County Sheriff Department and several fire engines from the Orange County Fire Authority, traveled to Camp Pendleton along the I-5 freeway, entering at the Cristianitos Gate on the south side of San Clemente. Dozens of Patriot Guard, many whom had traveled through multiple states with the monument, rode behind.

Pena, 28, who serves with the Headquarters Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, joined hundreds of Marines who lined San Mateo Road as the convoy entered the base. Pena's father served in the Marine Corps for 24 years and fought in Vietnam.

"I think this is a great opportunity to show respect to people like him and others, especially since they didn't get the welcome we do when we get back," he said.

The black granite monument created by Rock of Ages has six panels honoring 2,706 Marines, Navy corpsmen and a chaplain, Vincent Robert Capodanno, from the regiment killed in action. Their names are inscribed on the panels surrounding a 14-foot-tall black granite spire.

Among the names are 13 Marines awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor for personal acts of valor. The monument is also dedicated to the more than 14,000 Marines and sailors who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.

The image of the iconic battle cross -- helmet, rifle, bayonet and boots -- is etched into all four sides of the granite. The monument also includes combat chronology of the 5th Marines during the Vietnam War.

After its arrival at the regiment's memorial garden, an informal ceremony was held. Several Vietnam veterans shared their thoughts on the monument's arrival coinciding with National Vietnam Veteran's Day.

A formal unveiling will be held on Memorial Day, May 28.

The monument's arrival at Camp Pendleton marks the end of a five-plus year effort by Vietnam veterans Steve Colwell and Nick Warr, who first envisioned the memorial during a 2014 visit to Camp Pendleton for a 1st Marine Division reunion.

They stopped off at the garden, created and funded by the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group as a place of reflection. Existing monuments honor those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and Purple Heart recipients.

Colwell, who served as an officer with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and Warr, who fought as an infantry officer with Charlie Company in the 5th Marines, noted there was nothing in the garden recognizing those who died in Vietnam.

"This is a reminder to today's generation that the Vietnam warrior is a brave and honorable warrior, and the memorial validates their bravery and their service," Colwell said. "I hope that in some way the memorial makes up for the homecoming we all suffered when we returned to an ungrateful nation."

Colwell, 74, met the monument caravan in Nashville, Tenn., on March 23, and rode along for the rest of its journey.

"It's a tremendous gift to the 5th Marine legacy," he said. "The 5th Marine Regiment is the most decorated regiment in military history. We're honoring 2,706 Marines and sailors who died. To be here and see this unfolding, with this support, just touches my heart. We're finally remembering these young men that should have been remembered 50 years ago."

Mike "Joker" Courtright, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, was among dozens of Patriot Guard riders who escorted the monument. The 67-year-old Buena Park resident joined the convoy in El Paso, Texas.

"There was a place we came to in Texas, and a man got off his tractor, took his hat off and saluted the entire two-mile procession," he said, becoming teary eyed. "To see someone, out in the middle of nowhere, paying his respects -- not for any notoriety, but because it was coming from his heart."

"We brought 2,706 young men home where they belong," he said about the effort to memorialize those killed from the 5th Marine Regiment. "For us to bring them home, even though we didn't know them, means a lot. For me, it's a little bit more of closure."

Nonprofit law firm goes to battle for hundreds of O.C. veterans


(c)2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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