December 22nd, 2006 04:39 EST
Gainey, Veterans Gather for Tree Ceremony at Vietnam Wall
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2006 – A ten-foot tall fir tree, ornamented with pictures of fallen U.S. war veterans and notes of support for today's troops, now stands proudly at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined about 50 veterans and family members on the Wall's east knoll today.
"Less than one-percent of the total population of the United States serves in the Armed Forces. You are all part of that one-percent club," Gainey told the veterans.
"Ninety-nine percent of Americans get their freedom from people like you veterans, the folks who are still serving, (and) the young men and women that are on this Wall," he said.
Gainey, along with his son, U.S. Army Capt. Ryan J. Gainey, and representatives of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., the American Red Cross, HBO Video, and Target Corp. attended the ninth annual Christmas Tree Ceremony.
On behalf of wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, Gainey accepted 1,000 DVD sets of several popular HBO series donated by HBO and 100 portable DVD players donated by Target .
Working side by side with veterans and family members, the officials helped hang more than 6,000 notes on the tree. The elm trees surrounding the Wall created a leafless canopy under which they kneeled and climbed ladders to decorate the tree's hard-to-reach branches.
"Look behind me and you know why I'm here," Gainey said. "It's these young men and women, not only the ones putting the stuff on these trees, but the names of over 58,000 that did not ask to die for their country. They died because they knew (fighting for their country) was the right thing to do.
"From 1775 until the present, we have had veterans," Gainey said. "We have people who are willing to sacrifice their lives to give us something called freedom. Something a lot of people take for granted."
Gainey and his son, Army Capt. Ryan J. Gainey, and Vietnam veterans like Paul Stancliff reached into one of the seven stuffed boxes and selected note-ornaments to read aloud.
Sporting a USS Boston hat with American flag and Navy insignia pins, Stancliff, a former U.S. Navy sailor approached the east knoll's podium to read a note from Dennis Marseller.
"I don't know what relation he has to anyone on the wall," Stancliff said, looking at the note-ornament in his hand. "So many of these notes are from normal people across the country who send a message to current and past troops to let us know we are being remembered."
He then read the note.
"You are at rest my brothers and sisters," he read. "We will always remember the joys you gave to us, and forever mourn you being taken away from us all too soon. Until we meet again, may God give you peace."
As the seven boxes stuffed with the ornament notes began to empty, Jan Scruggs, the Wall's founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, shifted his thoughts to those servicemembers deployed overseas.
"This morning we take time out to remember our friends who are on the Memorial Wall and all who served and sacrificed in the Vietnam War," Scruggs said. "But we also remember and pray for the many thousands of Americans serving our country all over the world right now."
"The empty space at the table is especially difficult during the holidays," he noted.
After each veteran had read and hung an ornament, Gainey, Stancliff and two other veterans slid two metal rods through the branches and wheeled the tree slowly down the east knoll ramp next to the marble wall engraved with the names of 58,249 troops killed in Vietnam.
Like pallbearers, the four men directed the fir as the wheels of the tree’s base rolled next to freshly laid wreaths and flower bouquets. The procession of silent veterans made its way to the bottom of the ramp where the two marble walls meet. They set the tree in place. It will remain there through the holiday season.
Ceremonies like today's show that the community remembers "what we had to go through for freedom," said retired Army Master Sergeant Matt Daley.
Daley said Vietnam veterans share a very close kinship with today's active duty servicemembers. "It's all the same," he said. "They say it's a different war, but you're still laying your life on the line."
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service