Eight months ago, Moundsville City Councilman Philip Remke
began organizing the Ohio Valley Cost of Freedom Tribute when he arranged a
visit from the American Veterans Traveling Tribute.
The touring exhibit
includes a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington,
D.C. Displaying more than 58,000 names, the
black, glossy wall is 380 feet long by 8 foot tall at its highest point, sloping
to 18 inches at either side of its lowest points.
Remke describes the Traveling Tribute display that tours along
with the Vietnam Memorial: “On the 8th Street side, there’s 190 feet
of panels talks about 9/11, the Oklahoma Bombing, WWII, the Korean War, all the
Gulf Wars, plus all of our guys who’ve died in Afghanistan, Iraqi Freedom,
Desert Storm. We can’t forget any guys from WWI, to the present day.”
Remke says more than 150 people pulled together to make the
event a meaningful reality and the community response has been impressive. Photos
and memorabilia from local military families blanket shop fronts throughout
town. Some memorabilia date as far back
as World War I, while others are examples and reminders of ongoing conflicts.
“On Wednesday there were 835 motorcycles that brought it in
along with all the police and fire from all over the valley. People were on the
streets, over the bypass. It was just unbelievable how the people responded.
And we have a lot of veterans in this area and they are all coming out to
cherish their loved ones on this wall, plus the Cost of Freedom, plus World War
“I get the honor and privilege of taking the traveling
Vietnam Wall and the Cost of Freedom Tribute to communities all over the United
States,” says John Barron who is part of the
crew out of Dallas, TX,
that tours the exhibit across the country. “That allows us to bring this
tribute to people that would never get to see the ones in Washington so they
can show honor and pay respect and remember all of those who have laid their
lives down to protect and defend our way of life as we know it.”
Over a thousand people came to see the wall that was set up
between the Moundsville Penitentiary and the large Adena Mound. One local
flower vendor donated 5,000 red roses for the event. The atmosphere was somber
as many laid roses beneath the names of their friends and relatives. Thousands
of the red roses lined the wall. Volunteers in golf carts offered anyone who
looked like they might need assistance a ride to and from exhibits.
Bill Orkoskey brought his aging aunt Sue Zelenitz to see the
names of the fallen, including that of his cousin, and her nephew Michael S.
“My cousin was shot down over the coast of Vietnam
in 1972, I believe it was,” Orkoskey recalls. “Just came to pay our respects.
He was an air force pilot. ”
Richard Hickman, a Wheeling
resident, also came to pay respects. He’s part of the Patriot Guard Riders, a
national organization of motorcyclists who honor fallen US
military personnel. Hickman came remembering a relative who served during the
“Looking for my uncle’s name on the wall. Which I just found,”
Hickman says. “He was one of the first in West Virginia
that was shot down in Vietnam.
He got killed in action in Vietnam.
I just came down to see the wall.”
Remke says they arranged for area schools to visit the
exhibits. He says he was struck by how silent the kids were as they reflected
on the considerable military sacrifices made over the years.
The yard of the Moundsville Penitentiary was open to the
public over the course of the events. A local collector of World War II paraphernalia,
Tony Ankrom, set up a display for the public. His collection includes weapons,
helmets, and accouterments from soldiers of a variety of nationalities,
representing both Axis and Allied forces. He’s also collected home-front
memorabilia. Ankrom says the display is for the World War II vets.
“A veteran came in who was 103 earlier today. 97, 93,
they’re up in age and they come,” Ankrom says. “They haven’t seen some of these
types of things since WWII and they remember and then the emotions kick in, the
feelings that they had. And then they let everybody know just how they felt. So
that’s what it’s for. It’s for them.”
Remke says it’s been an educational, and he hopes, a healing
event for the community.
“Last night there was a young man a veteran, that was
sitting on the bench and his whole platoon, evidently, got wiped out,” Remke
“And he sat there and cried through the night. This is lit up 24/7. When
you get those lights on and it’s very quiet, it’s very humbling and sorrowful
to see these people. But it’s a good feeling, too, that we haven’t forgot them.
We’re still doing what we can to support them.”