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Tribute to Vietnam fallen helps Shaler woman keep father in her life

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Glenshaw resident Kelly Coleman Rihn poses with a picture of her father, Joel D. Coleman, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War when she was only seven-months-old. Rihn will be travelling to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wednesday to read off his name during a ceremony commemorating the veterans killed during the Vietnam war. She is one of 2,000 volunteers who will be reading aloud all the names that appear on the memorial's wall. (JC Schisler | Tribune-Review)

Kelly Coleman Rihn of Shaler will read the name of the father she never knew and those of about two dozen others who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam as part of a four-day tribute this week in Washington.

Rihn was 7 months old in 1966 when her father, Army Spc. Joel Coleman, was killed in action. She will join as many as 2,000 volunteers who, starting on Wednesday afternoon, will read the names of 58,282 service members inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Each volunteer will read 25 to 30 names, and the readings will continue for 65 hours over four days.

“It's a very moving experience,” said Rihn, 47. “It brings him a little closer.”

Joel D. Coleman, who had lived in Lawrenceville, died May 5, 1966, in Bon Son, Vietnam. He was 21.

This year's readings, the fifth time the names have been read aloud, is part of the 30th anniversary of the memorial, commonly known as The Wall.

“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a much different kind of memorial. ... It kind of humanizes the cost of going to war, “ said David M. Berman, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh and a Vietnam veteran. “This is a way all these years later to remember the cost of war by remembering the names of those who fell in service to their country.”

Rihn, a respiratory therapist, and about 70 other children of veterans went to Vietnam in 2003 to retrace the footsteps of their fathers. She and her husband, John, and their daughters, Megan, 20, and Alyssa, 17, make several trips a year to Washington to help with programs at the memorial.

“It's a way of keeping my dad, their grandfather, in our lives,” said Rihn, one of five people from Western Pennsylvania who will be reading names.

This will be the first time for Carol Tabas, 58, of Squirrel Hill. She has no familial connection to Vietnam but has donated to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the organization that maintains The Wall.

“I've always had this kind of emotional connection to the war,” said Tabas, who visited Vietnam a few years ago. “Looking back, I realized it made a bigger impact on me than I thought.”

The reading will begin with an opening ceremony at 3 p.m. Volunteers will read names from 4 p.m. until midnight. They'll continue Thursday through Saturday, from 5 a.m. until midnight each day.

As a way to organize a national tribute to Vietnam veterans, the memorial fund is asking schools, veterans groups, churches and individuals to read names from their communities and videotape it. The videos will become part of a national reading through the organization's website and social media. For more information, visit www.buildthecenter.org.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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