Memorial honors Michigan veterans killed in action during Vietnam War

Posted at 5:54 PM, May 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-29 17:54:23-04

BELDING, Mich. -- The anticipated Vietnam Monument was dedicated in Belding Veterans Park on Monday. It honors each Vietnam veteran from Michigan who served and gave their life during the Vietnam War.

With the help of strangers a woman located her loved one's name and knelt down to etch it. When she turned around another woman said, "Lynn! She went to school with Warren." One of many moments when the memorial connected families, bringing together generations.

The Vietnam Monument honors 2,654 Michigan Vietnam veterans. On the path leading up to to the memorial, there will be 12 pillars, seven of which are already erected: five honoring veterans killed in action from Belding, and seven honoring veterans killed in action from Greenville. Monday the first two pillars to honor Greenville veterans were unveiled.

Kathy Fries-Wilson stood by the pillar of her older brother, CPL Daniel L. Fries, who was killed in action when she was 12-years-old, he was 20, just one month shy of his twenty-first birthday. She remembers where she was in class when her parents came for her, and her teacher that day was standing beside her as she spoke with FOX 17 Monday.

"Back in October of 1970, I was a 12-year-old kid sitting in the nicest geography teacher's classroom that I could," said Fries-Wilson turning to her former teacher.

"I was called out of the classroom," she said, her hand on his shoulder.

Moments etched in time, but the veterans never forgotten.

"It was a tremendously difficult time for all of the young soldiers and a very conflicted time," said Fries-Wilson. "I think he felt the honor to serve, but it was a horrid experience for all of the young boys."

Standing at the Vietnam Monument, an Air Force veteran himself, Randall Baker etched the name of his youngest brother, Ruston "Gus" Baker. He says he and his two brothers followed their family's footsteps and joined the service immediately out of high school. Gus became a Marine.

"He made it through Khe Sanh," said Baker. "He was killed... in August of '68. He had four months to go."

"It's frightening how many names are on these walls. There's got to be a better way to solve our problems."

A key organizer and retired Air Force Sergeant himself, Denny Craycraft, says he's thankful to dedicate this Vietnam Monument for families statewide after nearly three years of hard work.

"[I'm] beside myself," said Craycraft. "It's been my medication... because I lost nine of my brothers over there and this is kind of a thank you to them."

He pointed out the monument faces east so the sun will always rise, never set, on it.

Craycraft hopes to complete the Vietnam Monument within in the year. He is still raising funds with the community to complete the wall's backside as well as money to erect the remaining five pillars that will honor five additional Vietnam veterans from Greenville.

If you would like to make a contribution see contact information on the Belding Veterans Park website.