Vietnam vets travel from across region to honor soldier
Sunday, December 31, 2006
They began arriving at 6:30 a.m., nearly three hours before the funeral that would honor a man they had never met.
They pulled up, saluted and quietly prayed for the family of Army Master Sgt. Norman Payne in a way that only they could. Vietnam veterans from across Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania remembered a fellow soldier who returned home Saturday in a way they never wanted.
"We don't look at this as a funeral," said Richard Pennybaker of Alliance. "We look at this as a welcome home and the honoring of a war hero. For nearly 40 years, he lay in a rice paddy somewhere. Today, he's here for us to thank."
More than 200 people attended services to remember Payne, a humble man with a broad smile who was reported missing in Laos on Dec. 18, 1968. He was 27 at the time. Military officials identified the remains of the Special Forces soldier earlier this year.
......... Payne epitomized the greatness of the Army's Special Forces, where he served in the Studies and Operation Group. The unit handled clandestine work during the war in Vietnam.
Thirty minutes later, at Cleveland Memorial Gardens, 20 veterans ringed Payne's casket with U.S. flags. As winds whipped across the muddy field, Army Master Sgt. Larry Brooks presented a folded American flag that had covered Payne's casket to his wife. He called it a small gift of appreciation for her husband.
Minutes later, Vietnam veterans mingled with Payne's family, each thanking the other for their gifts to the country.
Missing in action since 19 December 1968, when his reconnaissance team was attacked 6 miles inside Laos west of the A Shau Valley just before nightfall; last seen by the team leader, Sp. 4th Class Donald C. Sheppard, as Payne left the team to join another group, which had slid down an embankment; Sheppard later followed this route along a creek bed, but efforts to locate Payne failed.
During extraction, Sheppard heard garbled emergency radio transmission, the last word of which sounded like "bison' (the code name for Payne), but a later ground search was blocked by hostile activity.
Dear Sgt. Payne,
Welcome home brave soldier, you have been away for quite sometime. You don't know me, I was only 2 yrs old on that fateful day in December 1968. I want to thank you for proudly serving your country.
Your family has missed you. From the Mekong Delta to the DMZ, in Laos and Cambodia you and your veteran brothers served proudly with honor and valor. The war is over now, you may rest in peace now that you are home.
Please know that your veteran brothers never forgot you. They had Rally's, Tiger Cage walks, car shows, motorcycle runs, etc..... all to remember and work towards the return of soldiers like you that still need to come home.
You were welcomed home like the Hero that you are. Your fellow veteran brothers were welcomed home to crowds of protesters calling them horrible names, being spit on, being shunned by WWII veterans and were not allowed to join the VFW.
Many sold or removed their uniforms before coming back to the states. Unfortunately for some, in their minds, they are still fighting the war. I am sorry for the way our country treated you guys.
Our country failed all who served in country and when they came home. To help heal the scars of the war for our country and the veterans, in 1982 they made a 493.5' long, cold, black granite wall to remember you and your veteran brothers who paid the ultimate price.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated to the soldiers and not the war in which they fought. The "Wall" is a solemn and an awe inspiring sight. The sight of your fellow veteran brothers making peace with their ghosts and talking with fallen comrades is enough to make the hardest man weep.
You are now with your veteran brothers again, please let them know we are proud of them!