Army Ranger memorial dedicated in Harrison City
James Bell made four trips to Vietnam during the 1990s in an attempt to find closure to his one-year tour of duty.
Those journeys back, Bell says, helped inspire him to build a memorial to the 51 from the K Company of the 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment who died between 1967 and 1972.
The resulting tribute is in one of the most personal possible places: the back yard of the semi-retired police officer's home in Harrison City.
“The men that I served with in Vietnam became my brothers and my family,” Bell, 66, said at the dedication of the memorial on Aug. 24. “When one was killed in combat, you wept and prayed for his soul.”
Several elected officials and military veterans participated in the dedication ceremony. The guest list of about 125 people included 13 Ranger veterans.
The site includes a memorial stone, bricks that have been stamped with the names of the 51 Rangers, a flag pole and two benches.
“Memorials, they're all over our state, but to have one here in a neighborhood lets everybody see every day … a constant reminder of what happened in Vietnam,” state Sen. Kim Ward, R-39, said.
After receiving his invitation to the ceremony, state Rep. George Dunbar, R-56, said he drove over to take a sneak peek before the dedication.
“I was stunned,” said Dunbar, who lives about three miles away. “My breath was just taken away.”
One of the more emotional points in the ceremony came when Roger Crunk, the K Company unit director for the 75th Ranger Regiment Association, recounted the death of one of the honored Rangers, Evelio Alfred Gomez, during an ambush of their helicopter in August 1970.
Crunk, who said he looked into Gomez's eyes after a bullet hit him, said the death is a heavy load that he has carried for every day since then.
Only years later, when he heard The Hollies' “He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother” play on a radio station, did Crunk find peace.
“At that moment, it was as if someone had lifted that 80-pound pack that we used to carry up and down the mountains in the jungles of Vietnam from my shoulders,” said Crunk, who lives in Colorado.
“Now, the load is light, and I'm happy to carry the memory of my brother.”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.